Was religion always so important or has its sudden association with Entrepreneurship given it a boost?
Not a lot of Indian achievements have guarded the Book of Records, nor a lot of Indian movies have won Oscars. Few Indian attainments have led to prompt national pride as much as the success of ISRO’s Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) to Mars. Media gushed, Twitter and Facebook celebrated while every politician and celebrity congratulated ISRO for days. The last comparable Indian gush was the cricket World Cup victory in 2011. And a triumph in India, as comparable to a crucial cricket victory is undoubtedly on of its kind.
It might sound exaggerative but make no mistake, to place a satellite in the Mars orbit at the first attempt is no small feat. Additionally that it was done on a $75 million budget, the cheapest Mars mission so far, makes it even more noteworthy. The ardor of ISRO staff along with cutting-edge science made the mission successful. The pride we Indians hold at the success of MOM is justified to the largest extent and could not be compared to any other success of science so far. But a question still persists, has the success of MOM completely entangled us into believing and respecting science at its crowning of existence? Have we accepted the hold of science on all our activities?
Indians have a hallucinating relationship with science. On one hand, we want our kids to take science subjects in school. Exams to get into top engineering and medical colleges are among the toughest in the world. Choosing the best colleges and careers, comes as the most difficult task to be done in life. Our students get top scores in science and mathematics, pushing cut-offs higher and higher. If some alien from say Mars were to see this, he would think India is a land obsessed with science. And yet, in many ways we are completely unscientific; being our knowledge limited to books, and our reasons of perceiving this knowledge completing ending with the accomplishment of the money desire.
Superstition here is not just a feeling, but a fear. More superstitions exist in our country than any other. Most of us have been fed curd and sugar right before a science exam, as a sign of luck. As if some audit department of God above is noting who are the kids who ate it and hence makes them deserving of a simpler exam. Our fears can either lead us to death, or end us up becoming a vague business for a random unit which does not share this sense of fright with us. Babas, astrologers, horoscopes abound. Temple visits are associated with guilt, and often include some sort of a transaction. Place some money in front of the idol and in return some luck will come your way, implying that is how God thinks about us. Maximum movies, leaving a few exceptions, all the daily soaps have done enough homework to enhance this fear in us to this level. And we have hence, created business for millions out there who were waiting to suck the money out of common man’s pockets.
Keeping a huge heart and ignoring the non-taxable money involved, religious ceremonies spill out on the road, leaving behind a trail of filth and noise pollution. As if one of those Gods, if existent, wanted this state to be that of pleasure and would grant the best blessings on seeing filth, dirt and pain all around us. We have made this a classified information which has to go through many departments before it reaches the ultimate power. We have gods for rain. If a crop suffers due to lack of rain, it is obviously an act of the rain gods. It is not the culpability of the irrigation department, which may have had decades of funding that filled every person along the line of sight in the department but couldn’t stabilize irrigation in the area. If there are floods in Uttarakhand it is God’s rage, and doesn’t have anything to do with poor environmental planning and unchecked construction.
If I believe in one God and somebody else in another, the other person is separate from me. If people who believe in my God die, it is more terrible than if people who believe in the other God do. And by any chance, if you are an atheist in this country, you belong to a race other than mankind, and your death will take you to hell, wherever that place exists.
I don’t want to go on and on. All I am trying to say is, do we take the greater message from the ISRO mission? Do we change anything about ourselves? Do we for the smallest of things, try to change our beliefs?
On sickness, we take pills created by scientists. For the sake of unlimited communication around the globe you follow fiber lines created by scientists from almost all domicile. I write this and you read it, by all mediums that were created by scientists. And yet, would you say we Indians have a scientific temperament?
The answer is no, we don’t. We want our kids to study science, because it enables them to do professional degrees that will help them get a job; gets them to earn money, gets our families settled, we live our lives peacefully and want to visit a pilgrim before dying to make contact with our favorite God. We want to use science for our selfish interests, but want the option to reject it when it doesn’t suit our purposes. For example, gay rights have a scientific basis. However, we don’t like those findings and so we bring all sorts of other arguments against them.
If you broaden the definition of science to logical thinking, we fail even more. Almost any argument of tradition, morality, culture and even misplaced patriotism is considered superior to science, if the latter rocks the boat. For some reason, you bring your discussion to the riots of Gujarat in 2002 and you would find 6 million opinions to the situation’s past, present, its post-mortem. This does not mean we have lost logic, but we have segregated our logical thinking to religious aspects more than to science.
We want to celebrate ISRO and MOM. Well, if we really do want to congratulate ISRO, the best contribution we can make is to give science a little more respect in our lives. At its core, science involves logical thinking and a questioning attitude, until a logical and rational solution is arrived at. Questioning definitely on the basis of science.
We do not have to spurn religion. Religion and science are in conflict sometimes. There is always an alternative of coexistence of some things together; and with coexistence I do not mean occurrence of a priest at some medical college to teach his secret prayers and heal the patients. Existence of both the things together means, being able to isolate the use and application of one at a time. However, given how deeply religious we are, it is unlikely we can shift over to becoming a purely scientific nation. And in most cases, making science and religion coexist simply involves having a sense of faith to guide you on the path of positivity and goodness; while at the same time using common sense and reasoning to do what is best for you and society. The only change is required in the ideology that chooses what has to be done at what time. Once we perfect that selection process, the co-existence becomes effective and peaceful.
Development encourages us, and scientific achievements indeed develop us. India is surely moving itself towards being science orientated, but the time factor has made it a little slow. The existence of both together would somehow create dilemma, but Indians considered to be the most intelligent species around the globe; can handle this patiently and meritoriously.
Let God create faith in our hearts, while Science fashion thoughts in our mind.
Call for of a second Green Revolution?
For a moment if we consider the Indian Subcontinent as an area of concern, and if our mind boggles on food, the first image that comes to our plates is rice. Without any hint of a doubt I can confirm that rice is the stapled diet in this subcontinent. A continental street rest-house in Andhra Pradesh serves more than 70 different dishes; all having the major ingredient as rice. Although, the journey of this commodity has not been as fair as its requirement, but today it has reached almost all houses.
Starting a little historically, when, in 1961, the government of India asked a celebrated wheat breeder, Norman Borlaug, for advice about new seeds, the subcontinent was thought to be on the verge of starvation. China actually was suffering from famine. Borlaug persuaded India to plant a new semi-dwarf variety of wheat in Punjab. The next year, the country also tried out a dwarf variety of rice called IR8. These short-stemmed crops solved a basic problem: old-fashioned crops were long and leggy, so when fed with fertilizer they grew too tall and fell over. Borlaug’s varieties put out more, heavier seeds instead. They caught on like smartphones. Over the next 40 years the green revolution spread round the world, helping ensure that, where its seeds were planted, famines became things of the past.
Today, when Harpal Singh Bedi plans to harvest his wheat crop in the Mogha district of Punjab province, he calls for more than 12 tractors and a whooping 150 seasonal laborers to carry the process smoothly along his 150 acres of pure wheat yield. Like a professional analyst, he tells a news channel, “Technological breakthroughs in rice will boost harvests and cut poverty. They deserve support”. It is true; technology has advanced with a rate that we could have never imagined before, and likewise the knowledge among the working-class has improved for the good. But, the question arises, as to how many farmers in our country get access to what Mr. Harpal gets to? Will anyone ever be able to boast about their rice plantings like Harpal swanks for his wheat harvest?
Now a second green revolution is stirring in the fields of Asia. It will not be the same as the first one, since it will depend not on a few miracle varieties but on tailoring existing seeds to different environments. But it promises to bring similar benefits—this time to the poor lands and poorer farmers that the first version passed by, and there shall always be hope for betterment with time. But altering land in some parts of India (be it for the betterment of people only) will be a torture to the authorities. Such lands are poor because they are prone to floods, drought and salinity. New seeds have been developed which can survive flooding, and soon there will be varieties that tolerate drought, extreme heat and saltiness, too, making the poorest lands fertile. So the second revolution could do even more to cut poverty than the first. The question now arises; what costing will come out, when land in such a huge scale would be taken up for renewal? Also, will our politicians or political organizations we fair to the public with respect to using their money?
Necessity is the next road to corruption. This revolution is all the more vital because the gains of the first are plateauing. Annual yield growth has fallen to less than a third what it was in the green revolution and below the current rise in population. Meanwhile demand for rice is rising by almost 2% a year in Asia and soaring by 20% a year in Africa. The world needs it on a whole, but the Indian subcontinent has a greater increase rate of population, ultimately the demand here increases more than any other part of the world. Ofcourse, comparison on the yield grounds would prove that our subcontinent is depleting at a higher tempo.
The fissure threatens to widen, because rice is exceptionally susceptible to environmental change. Rice farmers use almost a third of Earth’s fresh water, and water shortages are omnipresent. The world’s rice bowls are the deltas of Asia’s great rivers. These are subject to changing floods, rising salinity and growing heat stress. A second revolution has been made doable by the sequencing of the rice genome in 2005 (the first cereal crop to be sequenced). This enabled breeders to discover the genes for flood resistance in one obscure variety from eastern India and transfer them to varieties all round the world. Breeders will soon do the same for genes that provide other valuable traits. Climate changes have definitely caused problems to this cultivation, but what we cannot have power over is secondary.
The foremost green revolution was largely government-backed, with help from international research centers and American charities. You might reflect that nowadays the big agribusinesses would be desperate to lead the way, and they have indeed invested heavily in new strains of maize and wheat. But rice, the focus of the second revolution, is different. Farmers can keep the seeds from one harvest and plant them in the next with no loss of yield (unlike maize). The market for rice seeds is thus tiny, so almost all research is carried out by the state.
The amounts needed are small. But history tells us that in our country we have never received the original naked amount of finance generated for any cause. Unfortunately, we also don’t know where the money travels. By one calculation, $3 billion of rice research spread over the next 25 years would pull 150m people out of severe poverty. That is $20 a person, a bargain compared with any other anti-poverty programme. And it has worked before. The cumulative economic benefits from public research into rice are running at almost $20 billion a year, hundreds of times the cost of the investment.
There is a lot yet to be thought of, and much of the work would depend more on hearts, than on paper and ground realities. Governments, though, are nervous. Some politicians worry about publicly backing genetic research, despite all the lives it could save. Other health ministries have moved on to cooler causes, like fighting obesity. They should think again. It is hard to think of a way to improve more people’s lives for less money. Let’s repeat the old dialogue again: “The rich are getting richer, and the poor are heading towards starvation”. We hope the governments work for betterment of the country and not of the higher-class.
Investment in livestock seems profitable
Here in our country, more than half the population depends on agriculture for livelihood. And agriculture, in return depends on cows for its own sustainable future. So with time we have evolved with cows as a part of our lives. The irony although, that some worship the cow as a mother and some grate it saying it has the tastiest flesh. Humanity has always been that way, our thoughts never match, and we reflect singular and so differ in our futures. In India, there are about 280m cows. They produce valuable things—milk, dung and calves. But cattle are expensive to keep. The biggest outlay is food—the average cow consumes fodder worth about 10,000 rupees ($160) a year. Veterinary costs also add up. Although as poultry, a healthy cow can feed a family of four, their entire day’s dosage of carbohydrate. Still, herding cows is a costly job.
Indeed these expenses are so high that cows are often a poor investment. But in a country that is not so developed in terms of machinery, the buffalo family is undeniably the most important speculation. According to a new and splendidly titled NBER paper, which looks at cow and buffalo ownership in rural areas of northern India, the average return on a cow is -64% once you factor in the cost of labor.
The usual question now arises is, If returns on cattle are so bad, why do households buy them? People may not be thinking about economics, of course. Hindus may derive spiritual fulfillment from cow ownership. Households may prefer to produce high-quality milk at home, even if doing so costs more. Yes, in fact the spirituality is so divine that cows are considered a part of the family. Timely nutrition, bathing, worshipping, it’s all done in their favor. Other families, of course non-Hindus, consider beef a very healthy and succulent flesh. Not just in India, across the world, the beef is considered scrumptious and served in juncture.
But many suggest that there may also be sound economic reasoning behind cow ownership. According to ICRIER, a think-tank, only 7% of Indian villages have a bank branch. That means people lack a formal savings mechanism for their spare cash. And although there are informal ways to save—joining a local savings club, for example, or simply stuffing money under the mattress—owning a cow may be a better option. In addition to the asset itself, the cow can yield substantial benefits for the owner. Perhaps milk is the most nourishing gist to everyone.
The other way of seeing this is the customary human nature: most people find spending easier than saving. Immediate pleasures are easier to grasp than future joys—and so people make spending decisions that they later regret. The advantages of owning a cow over shine the costs of sustaining it. Economists refer to this as “myopia”. Cows force people not to be myopic. Compared with money held in savings accounts, cattle are illiquid assets. Taking cash from a cow is harder than taking money from an account. As a result, temptation spending is trickier. Not on a negative part, but the spending on a cow is not just an asset but a social development. A family that owns more cows is considered well-off and better placed than others.
Since when did an animal become the measure of property? For some time, let’s ignore the spiritual value of the cow in any Hindu family. The paper has implications for poverty-alleviation strategies and for financial services in developing countries. Aid programmes that try to reduce poverty by distributing livestock may be ineffective at raising incomes, if the returns from owning them are so poor. If cows are used as a means of saving, the spread of mobile banking in places like India will provide another, better option. Even then the problem of temptation spending arises. In a country like India, where people have forgotten to trust their own blood, putting their hard-earned money in the hands of a savings bank makes them insecure. So, they consider investing in a cow a better option. After all, the cow is their own mother, and now returns the spiritual relations between the owner and the gaay-mata.
Let us accept the fact; the cow is the most useful animal to any Indian. Remember, it cleans our houses of all the leftover food. Happily chewing all day long, the cow is so sweet that it eats the polythene in which, we fling our wastes. It feels happy chewing off everything and cleaning the environment.
But are we doing integrity to this mortal creature who reflects of our good?
Have our leaders become so powerful that they would judge people’s feelings?
If you are still in the inkling that, those days when voting was a mere caste-oriented activity, and the minority had no prospect of winning the elections, are left, you need to stopover Uttar Pradesh, the highly populous state with approximately the widest stretch of soil. The only major castes here are those to which either the Yadavs belong, or Mayawati hails, and to our surprise they are the only two leaders who have possible made the government in UP. its wither SP or BSP.
Looking through SP, the leader of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Mulayam Singh Yadav, is a shrewd politician. His party runs the massive state of Uttar Pradesh and for years has propped up, from outside, the ruling Congress party in the national government. The SP is known for the loutishness of some of its supporters, especially towards Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”. Yet it is experienced at winning elections, and its leader presumably makes statements while calculating how best to appeal to voters. Shamelessly and openly social order orientations of votes are prepared and people not following this, are punished. Let’s take a look on how these leaders advertise their campaign.
The beloved SP leader, Mr Yadav chose this month to articulate out on behalf of rapists? While campaigning in the ongoing general election that runs until May 12th he suggested that those convicted of rape are treated too harshly. He was responding to three men convicted this month for the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai, last August. Their sentence: Death. Mr Yadav commented that “Boys make mistakes. They should not hang them for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.” The way things stand, he added, men can be wrongfully convicted too easily, and he could hear an applaud from the audience. Was this, indeed what the enthusiasts attending his rally were looking forward to? Was this what they were expecting? Or our situation has fallen to such a level the we would blindly join our hands to produce sound, for whatever our leader says?
The sad part is, neither he, nor any party member tried apologizing for what was said. That signifies, it was not a mistake and he thinks the way he said it. His is not a principled opposition to any use of the death penalty. (Others—including The Economist—argue that capital punishment is an outdated and flawed approach to justice, and should not be applied for any crime.) Its use has been reserved in India, since a 1983 ruling by the Supreme Court, for the “rarest of rare” cases. Yet Mr Yadav commented not only on the severity of punishment. He also suggested that the crime is not particularly serious, that rape should be considered as merely a “mistake” that young men sometimes make. And such mistakes sometimes made, should indeed be forgiven.
But, our Indian audience did not seem quite convinced with what he said. He sounds massively out of step with Indian public opinion, at least if you believe results from a national opinion poll published on April 22nd by the Pew Research Centre. Based on a survey among 2,464 people across the country, in December and January (thus before the sentencing in the Mumbai case, and before Mr Yadav spoke), Pew found 90% of Indians consider rape as a “very big” problem in the country, while just 3% called it a “small” one. Most people, 82%, also considered it to be getting worse. Almost as many, 78%, said law enforcement is not tough enough towards rapists, while 74% said the laws themselves were not tough enough.
With what we saw in Uttar Pradesh, it leaves another question mark on us. Did Pew get its survey right? Possibly the results overstate what Indians believe. Some respondents, in the course of face-to-face interviews, might have given answers that they did not hold, but thought would be socially acceptable. Yet even so, the results are overwhelming. That is not surprising, since newspapers are full of grim stories of young women, even children, who are abused and raped. The past two years have seen several prominent examples of horrible rapes and subsequent protests calling for new measures to protect women. Most notable was the gang-rape and murder of a student in Delhi, in December 2012. That proved especially upsetting to India’s emerging, urban middle class. Four men convicted in that case have also been sentenced to hang. Oh was that not just a mistake? Please don’t hang them, they will surely improve themselves and try not to repeat something like that again.
Sadly enough, Mr Yadav has thus misjudged the mood of most Indian voters. But perhaps some of his own followers are different, living in backward, rural, male-dominated parts of Uttar Pradesh. Could they be among the minority who are more concerned about rapists than worried about those attacked? Of course, this leader’s enumerable support in the UP answers most of our questions. But, its not Mr. Yadav who alone is at fault, maybe that’s what time in India has taught him since always.
Take a tour of Indian history. Traditional Indian attitudes to rape were strikingly different from the modern ones captured by Pew. The fifth chapter of the “Kama Sutra”, an old Hindu text on sexual behavior, suggested rape as one of various legitimate forms of marriage, advising a man he can have intimacy with a drugged woman, “before she recovers from her intoxication”, and then claim her as his wife. The “Manusmriti”, an ancient code of social conduct for Hindus, described eight types of marriage, including “the rite of the rakshasa”, in which a man forces a woman to marry him against her will (and that of her family). How much these attitudes persist in parts of India is unclear, though it is clearly a touchy subject. In fact, so touchy that our lives have evolved a complete U-turn from these thought processes.
The ugliest truth above everything is that we cannot entertain anything against what our history has taught us. By a whole lot of dare, if someone manages to try something to develop our thinking, we chastise him. Wendy Doniger, an American academic, recently saw her book “The Hindus” shamefully withdrawn from publication in India, because she pointed out such things, thereby offending thin-skinned Hindu nationalists, who are becoming more assertive these days. Definitely, the secret to their confidence lies In the support of their beloved netas.
India’s public debate about rape is, however, slowly changing. Politicians who in the past routinely blamed victims for attacks are learning to keep quiet. Fewer make jokey references to rape—though late last month a young Bengali actor called Dev, contesting a parliamentary seat in West Bengal, provoked criticism. Describing the intense attention he faces on the campaign trail, he said “it’s just like being raped, man; either you can enjoy or you can shout”. Others, too, are learning that rubbishing the testimony of those who say they have been raped is not a popular thing to do. This month Manu Joseph, a novelist and journalist well regarded by Indian liberals, published an article that sought to point out discrepancies in the testimony of a young woman who accuses the editor of a prominent magazine, Tehelka, of raping her. Mr Joseph’s curious intervention, as a legal process is under way, provoked a furious reaction from the family of the woman and several others. He, Dev and Mr Yadav may discover that public opinion is shifting faster than they had realized, or maybe, had expected.
But it won’t be surprising to see Samajwadi Party again form the government in the Uttar Pradesh, because, without doubt, the Yadavs are a majority in the state, and they are so educated that they vote for people standing from their castes only. We the uneducated citizens for an under-developing country, have work to do ahead of us. We need to move out of history and live the present. The lord above us, evolved us into two separate sexes, only for the continuation of the human chain. The only difference lies in the ability of producing a new zygote and bringing it to life. There is no other disparity, whatsoever, in a male and a female, atleast not by-birth.
So grow-up friends and stop entertaining people who cause any nuisance to our society.
Are we so self-centered that we cannot allow a river to breathe oxygen devoid of paying a tune excise?
A young boy seems excited on the banks of Brahmaputra, exactly in between the boundaries of the two countries. A glint on the surface catches the boy’s eye—shishu, shishu, he mutters—he has spotted a rare freshwater dolphin. It’s the first time he saw such a creature and he is overjoyed. Sooner, he gets to know from his father that the surface belongs to India, and he, a resident of Bangladesh would not be able to see any such creature all his life. Too young to understand boundary relations and wars, the boy goes to his room wondering why he is not lucky enough to watch the beauty again.
But he has no answers to his question.
Has our quest of power and need to embark our possession on things as natural as the Dolphin made our lives forlorn?
There is less on the surface of earth to satisfy man’s need. A man-made urge juts into the mighty Jamuna river—known as the Brahmaputra upstream, over the border in India—near the town of Enayetpur. There was an out of bound experiment from both the governments and they collectively tried to control the gush of the river. The solid wall was built, expensively, to control the massive flow of the river. But erosion now eats deep into its foundations and the river is reclaiming the land once again. Last year people lived beside it in makeshift shacks; now where their homes once stood there is only water.
Over millions of years, the origins of the river have set their blotch on that land, which now stays undivided and in continuous quarrel between two countries. The great river draws from a huge, heavily populated basin, home to hundreds of millions of people. Over the centuries they have learned to live with the shifting course of the river, and with its immense flow. The great basin where the Brahmaputra merges with the Padma and Meghna rivers covers only 1% of the world’s land area, but it is home to a tenth of all humanity. At its peak, some 100,000 cubic meters of water rush by every second, enough to fill 144,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools per hour. But that flow can be terribly destructive, alternately depositing huge quantities of sediment—hundreds of millions of tonnes a year—then devouring the land elsewhere. Or, if every one of the 156m men, women and children who live in Bangladesh were to fill themselves a pint glass of water, every second…there would still be a 20m pint-per-second trickle down to the Bay of Bengal.
Recently though, the river has made tremendous turn-outs, crunching up more than blooming out. This year the river will swallow another 1,300 hectares (3,200 acres) of land, predicts Maminul Haque Sarker of the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Scientists say that 64,000 people in Bangladesh are displaced each year by the erosion of riverbanks. Many pushed from their homes by the river end up in slums in the capital. “The landlord in the morning can become a beggar by evening,” goes a traditional song:
One part of the river erodes, while another accretes;
This is the game of the river.
The landlord in the morning can turn into a beggar in the evening;
This is the game of the river.
But to very old survivors, it is nothing new, they say “Every time human has tried to punish an innocent, the nature has punished severely.”
Thinking religiously, no man-made structure or thought can stop the river from cursing man-kind upto the extent, man has exploited her (Yes, Hinduism, considers rivers to be feminine) The cost of restraining its flow with stone spurs and other constructions used to be prohibitive as well as ineffective: it cost about $20m to protect a kilometer of embankment, using stones trucked in from India and paid for in hard currency. Now a relatively simple solution is being tried to protect millions who live near the river. Some 25km (16 miles) downstream from the spur is Nakalia Bazaar, which offers a strikingly different scene to Enayetpur. A big riverside market contains permanent structures. From huts atop a protected embankment comes the clicking sound of fly-shuttles worked through handlooms. The economic activity is a sign that, locally, the game of the river has changed and its power has been reduced and unfortunately we have succeeded in taming the river’s very origin.
Here the riverbank is protected by low-tech means: heavy sandbags. Filling and installing them is labour intensive, but workers are abundant and cheap. Sand is also plentiful. Thus overall costs are low: some $2m per kilometre. Since around 1,000km of banks along the river probably need protection, the difference in cost is immense.
Environmentalists suggest it may be better, at least beyond towns, to let the river go where it wants than attempt to wrestle with such a powerful monster. But armies of donors, consultants and development experts have been determined to fight, for the sake of those who survive on the river’s edge. But the sad part is, now this boundary debate has reached political issues, probably the worst thing that can happen to something as pure as the Brahmaputra.
Now complications have reached a level where it has become a measure of showing development. The simple bagging technique used in Bangladesh could next be adopted across the border in India, which has plenty of fertile land to protect in its eastern provinces. In nearby Assam state, the chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, has suggested India is ten years behind Bangladesh in “training” its part of the river and that his country has much to learn. The irony is, the river and residents around there were happier before the construction of these embankments.
Rivers narrow and widen, depending on the flow of sediment, and even as a result of earthquakes that can dramatically shift their course. Experts say the effects of one earthquake in Assam in 1950 were still being felt four decades later. Today much of the river in Bangladesh is 12km wide, but Mr Sarker, the scientist from CEGIS, says with sediment flow declining, the river could narrow again to just 6km. Nothing will be permanent, but more stability may yet beckon for the people whose lives have for years been defined by the river.
Flow is one part of the story; solid mass is the rest. The waters of the Brahmaputra bear sediments from the Himalayas. It is like a massive conveyor belt carrying water and sediment from the world’s greatest mountain system into the Indian Ocean. In 1950 the Great Assam Earthquake shook those hills “as a terrier shakes a rat”, in the words of an eyewitness.
One of the side effects of this migration of sediment has been a dramatic widening of the rivers. Along the unprotected banks south of Enayetpur, villagers have moved their homes from the cliff-like edge of the river inland knowing that their home would not survive the erosion of the next year’s monsoon floods. The banks of a sandy river like the Brahmaputra are unstable in the first place. When the sediment emptied into a river exceeds its carrying capacity, the river starts to “braid”, in the language of fluvial geomorphology. Braiding deforms the river’s bed, scalloping it into sandbanks and shallow islands, which in turn push the banks of the river wider. This silent repositioning of the great rivers has displaced millions of poor people. But no annual statistic of natural disasters and their victims includes it.
Thérèse Blanchet, a French anthropologist, lived in the village of Gamaria, farther up the river, from 1979 to 1980, when the wave of sediment from Assam was passing through. Half of Gamaria fell victim to the fury of the river; the villagers’ offerings to the deities were not enough to calm it. Homes, the mosque, the graveyard, a sacred banyan—the “mad river”, as they call the Jamuna, “ate them all”. In the 1980s, people displaced by the rivers’ movements comprised as much as 40% of the slum-dwelling population of Dhaka. Their ancestral homes were in villages that once lined the banks of this basin’s great rivers.
In all these years, the young boy was not propitious enough to see a Dolphin again. He only saw minor fishes after they were fished by the market dwellers. In the coming years, maybe he would forget that creatures like Dolphins existed. He was still fortunate enough to witness it, what about the coming generations?
Ever seen how The Avengers appear out of nowhere and bank the people from their misery?
Are we projecting Modi like a super-savior or is he really worth it?
“Abki baar Modi Sarkar”
Our leader Narendra Modi seems to have bought up all the shares corresponding to local or national media agencies, and the major radio channels. Suddenly, every soap-related channel gears up with an advertisement of the BJP and their Iron Man, Narendra Modi. With the rise of the BJP assets, parallel we see Gautam Adani and his shares rising to a never before value. Could there be a connection? Is Modi a man of some of the people?
Another side of the story is that the opposition has nothing other than the Godhra riots to contradict Modi, and repeatedly the same discussions have arrived. Moreover, the Gandhi-cap wearing politicians who never tire of flaunting their secular credentials have not done enough over the years to lessen the plight of Muslims. The Rajinder Sachar Committee in 2006 placed the socioeconomic and educational status of Muslims below that of the scheduled castes. Contrast this with Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where Muslims are doing relatively well by being a part of the vibrant economy rather than relying on government sops and freebies. According to a survey by the Economic Times, the Muslims in Gujarat have prospered more than in the least other part of the country. Finally, not a single incident of communal violence has taken place in Gujarat since 2002. In sharp contrast, states such as Uttar Pradesh and Assam that are run by secular leaders have witnessed big communal clashes over the past two years.
A BJP supporter was quoted saying “Your criticism of Narendra Modi baffles me. Lifting the population out of economic misery is a bigger priority than the so-called concerns about Mr Modi’s association with sectarian hatred. Why is he being singled out? He has acknowledged remorse at the Gujarat killings in 2002. Why haven’t you laid out the same standard for the Gandhi family in the aftermath of the Sikh riots in 1984 or the fact that Sonia Gandhi openly courts Imam Bukhari for the support of the Muslim community? Why should you chide Mr Modi for refusing to wear a Muslim skullcap—let’s respect his reasons for that. Do you want to judge him for his record? Ask any Muslim in Gujarat on for an unbiased answer.”
Critics say that attempts to apportion blame by India’s courts were obstructed by the authorities in Gujarat, with charges badly filed, minutes of crucial government meetings either missing or never kept, and evidence destroyed. With the state’s courts doing a suspiciously wretched job, the national Supreme Court stepped in. So far a variety of courts have jailed 198 people. Last August 32 were convicted over the killings in Naroda Patiya; Maya Kodnani, a local BJP legislator who had urged on killers and used a pistol, was jailed for 28 years.
Mr Modi himself always denied wrongdoing and has been found guilty of nothing. (One relatively insignificant case in which he is indirectly involved is still ongoing.) A special-investigations team of the Supreme Court last year cleared him of 30 allegations made by Mr Jafri’s widow and others. It rejected testimony that he had told police not to confront Hindu mobs, ruling one witness, Sanjiv Bhatt, who worked in police intelligence, unreliable after others contradicted him. Other claims along the same lines were ruled out as hearsay. Over tea in his Ahmedabad home, an armed guard outside, Mr Bhatt still insists he told the truth. But as one senior journalist in Delhi puts it, “If it’s purely about the process of law, [Mr Modi] is okay. Even Congress does not argue that the judicial process has not been done.”
The rise of Narendra Modi symbolizes the frustration of young Indians with the appeasement of Muslims and their use as a vote bank by Congress and other regional parties. The record of Mr Modi after the 2002 riots has been excellent. The record of Congress is riddled with corruption and incompetence. Rahul Gandhi does not inspire confidence in the youth of India. Yes, India deserves better. But how do we judge who is the better among more than 2187 representatives around the country?
The fact of the matter is that the most optimistic opinion polls give Mr Modi a 32% share of the vote. That might be good enough to give him the largest number of seats. But it also implies that 68% of the electorate doesn’t want him in power.
On December 8th, the previous year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition party, handsomely won state elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, with a combined population of well over 100m. It also won, a bit more narrowly, in Chhattisgarh, and it got the largest share of the vote in Delhi.
Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and the party’s national leader, claims much of the credit. He is a forceful campaigner, hugely popular with his party’s Hindu-nationalist core and increasingly accepted beyond it. His chances of becoming India’s prime minister in this year’s general elections were already good before the year start. Now they look better than ever.
Indians, especially those in towns, in the north and in the middle class, are fed up with the ruling Congress party. Stubbornly high inflation, chronic joblessness and growth of less than 5% make the economic outlook gloomy.
Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, is ineffectual; Rahul Gandhi, who is emerging as Congress’s new leader, is uninspiring. At rallies Mr Modi, who looks like a barrel-chested cross between Father Christmas and a professional wrestler, mocks his rival—son, grandson and great-grandson of earlier prime ministers—as a prince. His audiences bellow their scorn. Opinion polls (which Congress wants to ban) show Mr Modi as easily the most popular national figure. “Everyone now assumes it’s Modi,” says a columnist in Delhi. Mr Modi reportedly talks of an aandhi, a “storm blowing in our favour”.
In a culture that favours insiders who govern as centrist coalition-builders, Mr Modi stands out as an outsider with a long history of extremism. His origins are modest. His father ran a tea stall at a railway station in northern Gujarat and his caste puts him in the category referred to as “other backward classes”. At the age of eight he volunteered for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a movement whose purpose is to see India remade as a Hindu state. Forswearing marriage in his devotion to the cause, and receiving relatively little schooling, he rose through the ranks of the RSS despite not being of high caste. In late 2001 the BJP put him in charge of Gujarat, where he subsequently won three elections.
Operating a state is not normally a springboard to becoming prime minister, but Mr Modi has found three ways to make it one. He established himself as the strongest voice for Hindu nationalists on the national stage. He presided over a epoch of strong growth in Gujarat which broadened his appeal, developing a pro-business reputation which even brought him support from a small number of wealthier Muslims. The people he impressed this way see him as decisive, efficient and able to make civil servants do what he tells them. And he successfully marketed his state and himself. Helped by a PR firm, he has promoted himself as a green-energy champion. Every two years he hosts a big summit for investors, “Vibrant Gujarat”, which earns him lots of attention and praise.
In the 2009 general-election campaign he was an active campaigner nationwide, though his big rallies did not translate into electoral success. From then on, he assiduously built up his public profile both in old media and on social networks; he has almost 3m followers on Twitter, far more than any other Indian politician. Restored to the good graces of the RSS, with which he had had a falling out, this summer he toppled 86-year-old L.K. Advani as the BJP’s leader. Mr Advani fought a rearguard action, attempting to promote Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the moderate chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. But the RSS and the party faithful were not having it.
But returning back to Gujarat, there isn’t just the development to look for. The people of the state have seen Modi for more than a decade now and their views are not constant. Mr Modi has hardly been a model of reconciliation. The BJP fielded no Muslim candidates in the state’s regional elections last year, though it has done elsewhere. At a rally in November he allowed the celebration of two BJP politicians who had been arrested over recent anti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh. But his rhetoric has softened. He does not style himself a “Hindu nationalist”, though he agrees that he is both those things. Today he insists leaders must be secular and emphasises that economic development trumps religious factionalism. At a rally in October he said “I want to ask poor Muslim brothers whether they want to quarrel with poor Hindus or fight against poverty. I want to ask poor Hindus whether their concern is disputes with poor Muslims or the fight against poverty…Let’s defeat poverty together.”
Putting economic development and poverty alleviation at the centre of the debate serves Mr Modi well. Gujarat’s economy has nearly tripled in size during his time in office; its GDP has grown by 10% a year, faster than India as a whole and roughly on a par with China. With 5% of India’s population, Gujarat now accounts for 16% of its manufacturing and about a quarter of total exports.
This tide has floated all boats. Two decades ago 43% of Gujarat’s Muslims were poor, a bit better than the national average of 51%, according to a study by Arvind Panagariya and Vishal More, of Columbia University, using a definition of poverty similar to that of the World Bank. Now only 11% of them are, compared with a national average of 25%. Central-government welfare programmes have played a part in this, but only a part.
Christophe Jaffrelot of Sciences Po in Paris argues that Gujarati Muslims—about a tenth of the population—remain much worse off than other Gujaratis. Wage rates for casual urban workers, who are mostly Muslims, are among India’s lowest despite the state’s prosperity. But then Gujaratis do less well on various social indicators than Indians in some other states. Amartya Sen, an economist, notes that its infant-mortality rate is more than three times that of Kerala, and overall life expectancy ten years lower. Jagdish Bhagwati, another economist, retorts that rapid growth under Mr Modi is bringing sharp social gains in its wake, and that Gujarat will catch up with the best before too long.
Nonetheless, our Iron Man has tuned up Gujarat in a way that there is very less to complain of course. He had promise to take away all woe from the lives of the Gujaratis, and he indeed has. Take three: supplying electricity; attracting investment; and cleaning up the bureaucracy. It again leaves us, filled with positivity for Narendrabhai Modi.
Mr Modi boasts that “24-by-7, 365-days-uninterrupted three-phase power is available to each and every village in the state”. This success came in part from letting the market work. In 2003 he broke up a deeply indebted power company and split supplies for farmers (who get power for eight hours a day) from those for other consumers (who pay a market price but get electricity all day). He made clamping down on illegal access to the grid a police priority.
A reliable grid with profitable electricity supply companies is not the only infrastructural success. Gujarat has good gas supplies, too, and Mr Modi says there is broadband entrée in every village; its roads and ports are in good repair. Mr Modi has managed to increase capital spending even as he has reduced government debt as a proportion of GDP. This helps to attract investors, both from abroad and elsewhere in India: Gujarat drew more investment than any other state, or any other state bar one, in six of the past ten years.
As for keeping government clean and effective, Mr Modi likes to boast that with no family to favour he must be honest. He prevents corruption in others, he says, through a mixture of leadership—“Unless and until you inspire the people, you will not get results”—and close monitoring. His unwillingness to let political colleagues take charge of state-run companies, thus preventing them from being milked for political or private gain, was one of the things that drove a wedge between him and the RSS during his early years in power.
None of these achievements is flawless. The 2011 census found over a million Gujarati households still without electricity. Mr Modi’s methods of luring investors may be focused too much on big companies; generous grants of land and tax holidays may be unsustainable. A new World Bank study ranks Ahmedabad as an easier place to do business than 12 other big Indian cities, but it rates four other cities as better still, reflecting difficulties enforcing contracts, paying tax and dealing with courts that could slow investment.
His management style and general caginess lead even some of Mr Modi’s supporters to worry that he is a secretive loner who refuses to delegate. There are also allegations of the abuse of state power during his time in office, often involving Amit Shah, his closest political confidant. Mr Shah was forced to resign as a minister in 2010, after being charged with extortion and murder over a series of police killings (the case has yet to come to trial). He is still close to Mr Modi, working as his campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh. A recent scandal centres on accusations that Mr Shah used intelligence officers to spy on a woman with whom Mr Modi was apparently besotted. A close supporter airily says such “snooping for private ends is a very common thing to do”. But it remains both illegal and disturbing.
Mr Modi would face more constraints, and enjoy fewer direct powers, as prime minister of India than he does as chief minister of Gujarat. It is unclear whether he would be good at holding together a coalition (which any BJP-led government would surely be), delegating to others, negotiating on legislation or responding to crises as they arise. But the record from Gujarat suggests he thinks hard about policy, has clear ideas of how he would promote higher economic growth and social development and would prefer to bolster overall wealth creation than promote social welfare schemes.
All in all, we are running the same race as the other 15m Indians are, and we are seeing whatever we are made to see. Narendra Modi no doubt looks handsome enough to ruin the party for all other candidates, but there is a need to be careful of the times of yore.
“The real Avenger comes alone, but the evil will come in a herd”
The 2014 Lok Sabha Election. Voting: A right or a necessity?
With the economic year coming to a close lately, obedient Indians have started filling their tax repays. But there are still some who are still banking and multiplying their wealth exponentially and we the obedient class of people is going to get queued up sooner in our respective cities to stand abide to the right to vote. On Election Day in India most offices and businesses close. Recently we saw it in the National Capital Region, polling booths in Delhi, on April 10th, the upshot was a welcome holiday mood: bizarrely calm roads, tranquil amid good weather, and general good wit as (almost) everybody relished a day off work.
Being the world’s biggest democracy, India’s gargantuan parliamentary election potentially involves 815m voters, and to compose things a little easier has been split across nine stages athwart the various states. Voting that began in the north-east, on April 7th and 9th, mostly went smoothly, though a report of “booth capturing” (when muggers from one party confiscate the polling station and throw votes for their candidate) had come up from Manipur. North-easterners are enthusiastic about elections, with turnout this year estimated in many constituencies at well above 80%, setting a high standard for the rest of the country. Topical assembly elections in central and north India, with turnout between 66% and 75%, suggest voter fervor is relatively high there too.
Now more of the rest get down to business. The third round of voting involved 92 of the 543 seats in parliament, across 14 states including Kerala, parts of enormous Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra as well as Delhi. Exit polls are banned, so as to avoid influencing further rounds of voting, and the results will all come together on May 16th. While Congress might have held its support in the north-east, elsewhere in the country it faces grim prospects. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sounds confident.
In the National Capital region, the area most affected by the recent AAP crisis, did not seem very enthusiastic. Turnout by the middle of the day on April 10th appeared towering in Delhi and elsewhere, at about 40% of votes cast. A laundry owner called himself a Congress adherent but said he hoped that the BJP would approach to power instead. There were some voters who would want Congress rather than any anti-corruption movement leaders to get to power. Reason: the AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has been slapped and punched repeatedly by disgruntled voters while on the campaign trail, and “if they don’t even have the power to prevent that, what can they do?” Some said they switched their support from Congress to BJP, because Narendra Modi seemed a better candidate to them. Of course, Delhi being the capital of the country we expect honesty in their EVMs.
One enigma in Indian elections is whether voters think more of local or national issues. Analysis show, that the National Elections are merely a sum of all the local state elections, and the party that holds power in majority of the states, comes to the throne in the Lok Sabha.
The mindset of every individual is different, and the contemplation process before casting a vote varies with needs. Local issues can certainly triumph. A campaign assistant to a billionaire candidate for Congress in Bangalore says that voters in his constituency talk not concerning national policies but of wanting a speed bump installed in the street, or better public transport. In Old Delhi voters ticked off a series of complaints about their existing MP, Kapil Sibal, a minister in the Congress government. He is accused of doing nothing to perk up rotten roads, rubbish-strewn alleys, unreliable supplies of electricity and water, whereas voters recall his predecessor, from the BJP, having done a better job. Some voters complained that their MP did not allow them to visit him. Several younger men and women leaving polling stations were quick to complain that Congress had done nothing to bring Delhi better schools or colleges.
Yet national matters clearly are at the fore too. Many voters talk as if India were holding an American-style presidential election, not a British-style parliamentary one. Thus they say they are voting “for Modi”, explaining that they believe the chief minister of Gujarat would deliver better economic management for India as a whole if only he could become prime minister. Precisely how he can do so they are not sure, but talk of “giving him a chance”. But still, the irony is, casting vote is an altogether different phenomenon, here in a population of billions there are people who vote under the influence of supremacy. Many don’t even know the candidate they casted for moments ago.
The Economic Times interviewed an articulate 26-year-old supporter of the AAP, Sagun Nagar, says he interpreted and compared national manifestos of the parties and had taken a principled verdict not to back any party that fielded criminals or the corrupt as candidates. He does not expect a triumph for the AAP, but supports it anyway, predicting for it a ten-to-15-year “journey” of improving Indian politics, making it cleaner and satisfying parliament with honest MPs who can pass stronger laws. He complains that the BJP makes effective use of a posh, and apparently effective, publicity campaign, suggesting that the lofty cost of that can only be repaid later with ill-gotten funds.
By and large, India’s election so far goes efficiently and with no palpable drama. Yet that does not mean all is calm underneath. One of the regions that votes on April 10th, western Uttar Pradesh, includes the area around Muzaffarnagar, the site of Hindu-Muslim riots last September, when around 40,000 were displaced and around 40 killed. The majority of those who were displaced were Muslims and they remain away from their homes, either in camps beside mosques or settled on vacant patches of land. The political effect of the violence will become clear soon, but voting on April 10th looked likely to benefit the BJP (among landowners) and the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (among the Muslims), in spite of the fact that the Muslims were attacked the caste-supportive vote continues in the Uttar Pradesh and the maximum chances stand for SP or BSP who have continued to exploit UP since always. A village in UP was surveyed by a NDTV spokesperson, which hailed from the Yadav reign, and his survey concluded with a conformity that the caste-oriented votes, continue to decree.
In a diverse place, concerns were more mundane. A flurry of interest rose this week after the BJP finally published a manifesto. Encouragingly, it toned down earlier Hindu-nationalist talk, preferring vague but mostly welcome promises to boost economic development in the country. Although, the manifesto was the same old talk-more-work-less type piece of paper, Mr Modi continued to draw attention to him, filing his nomination for a seat in Gujarat (he will contest a second one, in Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh too) and, for the first time, admitting officially that he has a wife. Meanwhile Congress’s leader, Rahul Gandhi, continued to voyage while stirring less excitement than his main foe. With six more rounds of voting to come, until May 12th, India’s summer will be in full swing before the election is over. Those who have had the chance to vote early at least had the pleasure of doing so while it is (in many places) still bearably tepid.
The political agenda, in the Nation of Diversity might not change for the better of the population, but without doubt we see how cultural we are when we vote for people belonging to our locality. Let go of that image of a successor who would come on a white horse and end all our woes. Choose a aspirant best suited for the country and vote, because not voting is equivalent to voting a erroneous candidate.
Oh peer of the realm! Come May, and the end of this marathon, voters may be forgiven if they suffer fatigue both from the heat and the politics. The elections by no means, leave any stone unturned in shaping the country’s climate.
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