Sunday, March 03, 2013

Nuclear India at Crossroads!

To Nations existing in the Cold War era discovering the atom's secret  was a supreme aim as it signified arrival at the zenith of its power. It was  natural that newly independent India should accord top priority to this mission and leave no stone unturned in reaching its destination. In Dr.Homi Bhabha we had the right person to lead our nuclear programme which as we loudly proclaimed was only for peaceful purposes for we were then a civilisation living up  to the ideals of that apostle of non violence Mahatma Gandhi..In 1973  a nuclear explosion was conducted at Pokhran and I remember the Illustrated Weekly coming out with an issue titled 'Poor India joins the Nuclear Club'. For we were then on e of the first ten countries to have conducted a nuclear explosion. Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto declared that even if his people had to eat grass they would do so for their country to join the atomic club. This invited sanctions from many countries and Canada denied us the heavy water required for the Trombay Atomic plant.

I'm sketching this history to point out the transition from an earlier state of affairs when ruling elites convinced their subject populations that atomic energy signified the height of their nation's prowess to the present times when the masses are up against their governments demanding a total scrap of nuclear programme stating that it no  way helps the ordinary folks. this began with a spate of nuclear accidents starting at Three Mile Island  in USA. Chernobyl in Russia exposed the helplessness of might governments when a nuclear reactor decides to run riot. The latest of these at Fukushima in Japan was relayed in to millions of homes through the revolutionary transformation in communication systems and alerted people of their sheer vulnerability in the event of a nuclear accident which could transcend barriers of nature and time in minutes.

It was in these troubled times that India's Planning Commission formulated, in 2006, an Integrated Energy Policy to create capacity to generate 63,000 MW of nuclear power by 2032. This was after the Congress Govt signed a nuclear deal with United States in July, 2005.It was decided to import 40.000 MW's worth of Light Water Reactors which would cost about Rs.8 lakh crores at current prices. All this was done without any transparency as Nuclear Policy in India is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the way other departments of government are.

The ongoing agitations against a nuclear plant at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu and  one to be set up at Jaitapur in Maharashtra show that people have strong doubts about the safety, integrity and requirement for such projects.The  state responded to these protests in a repressive manner and even the courts could offer little solace. The agitation and the repression are continuing while writing this and it is too early to predict what prevails.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

P.V.NARASIMHA RAO - Victim of Dynasty Rule!

'P.V. Narasimha Rao, whose 91st birth anniversary was marked last week, came from a humble home. His intellectual centre was India. Unlike Nehru his knowledge of Sanskrit was profound. His speech on Mahatma Gandhi at UNESCO on May 11, 1995 was a masterpiece. One has only to read his address 'India's Cultural Influence on Western Europe since the Age of Romanticism' given at Alpach, Austria on June 19,1983 to realise that PV was a man of learning, a scholar, a linguist and a thinker of the first order. His roots were deep in the spiritual and religious soil of India. He did not need to Disocver India'.
I am quoting K. Natwar Singh , diplomat and former Foreign Minister. ( The Hindu, July 2, 2012).

PV as he is fondly referred to had his failings as a political leader and head of government but his grand vision for India and its people is what redeems him from his shorcomings and make us look back at the person and  his times with nostalgia and fondness. He was the first Prime Minister from outside the Nehru-Gandhi clan and  proved to us that India could be ruled ably by a man who did not hail from its premier  political dynasty or had to look up to it for political survival. The economic reforms initiated under his leadership have been praised and criticised but the final word of their impact is to be evaluated by future generations. We are too close to the event. But PV displayed boldness to depart from ritualistic adherence to empty ideological systems and dealt a final blow to many vested economic interests.  I often wish he lived for a few more years in good health which would have allowed him to actively participate in public affairs.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chemical Warfare in Kerala!

V.S.Achuthanandan, Chief Minister of Kerala, leads a day's fast, at Martyrs Column, Trivandrum, seeking nation wide ban on Endosulfan.

Endosulfan is an effective pesticide used by farmers against pests likely to destroy their crops. It is said to be cheap and affordable to farmers belonging to marginal and low income groups owning small and medium farm holdings. It also comes in dirt cheap for big farmers owning large tracts of land where economies of scale are in operation.
The use of Endosulfan is found to cause harmful effects to humans and biodiversity and hence many countries prohibit its production and use.Perhaps the absence of a cheap and effective alternative made India overlook these hazards and continue with the use of Endosulfan. Today, one of the major producers of Endosulfan is the Government of India owned Hindustan Insecticides Limited.
The Plantation Corporation of Kerala is a state government owned undertaking formed to accelerate agro-economic development. Cashew farming is one of their major occupations and the Company owns and manages cashew farms in Kasargode, the northern most district of Kerala. To protect its cashew crops the Company decided to opt for aerial spraying of Endosulfan using helicopters. It was to be supplemented with manual pumping. This practice started in the 1970's and continued up to the early years of this century.
The sudden appearance of deformities in many new born babies and disorders in their central nervous system puzzled doctors and the public. Concern on this count led investigators to the presence of high levels of Endosulfan in soil, air and water in the area. Levels of Endosulfan in human blood were found to be many times higher than the maximum residue level of Endosulfan in water.
Indiscriminate aero spraying of Endosulfan over long peiods of time led to this situation. Chemcals got mixed with water bodies and were consumed by humans. Even if one accepts the Industry's side of no evidence being available regarding occurrence of genetic diseases from other parts of India where Endosulfan is used, it cannot be denied that aerial spraying is vastly different from manual application .
This aerial spraying which can be compared to chemical warfare resulted in large quantities of Endosulfan being deposited in the water bodies, soil and atmosphere of the area. Humans and animals were affected by this contaminated water and air and the rich biodiversity of the area disappeared.
It took years for the conscience of the public of this politically active state to be shaken and help and succour to reach the afflicted. NGO's working in the field of environment and health were responsible for this awakening. Sri.V.S.Achuthanandan as Chief Minister and earlier as Leader of the Opposition was deeply concerned about this issue and sympathetic to the plight of the victims.
Today it is the focus of attention at the national and international level. Demands are made that India support Endosulfan ban at the Stockholm conference on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The government has resisted this. It is also suggested that Tribunals be set up to decide on the quantum of compensation to be paid to the victims.
The 'polluter pays' principle is the cornerstone to determine legal liability in such situations. It is not denied that aerial spraying through helicopters and manual pumping caused damage to plant and animal life, killed hundreds and to thousands being born with genetic problems which has led to their leading lives of untold misery.
The Plantation Corporation of Kerala is the polluter and they should bear the costs of compensation to the families of those who died and rehabilitation and treatment of the unfortunate surviviors. The entire assets of the Corporation should be utilised for this.
In such a grave offence it is important that criminal liability be established. The officers and directors of the Company who conducted aerial spraying whould be made to stand criminal trial.They are guilty of 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder', a charge the CBI is now trying to invoke against the accused in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case.
The Officials of the Plantation Corporation can only be compared to Nazis who killed Jews in gas chambers. They deserve no mercy or repreive. To facilitate payment of compensation and fixing of criminal liability, the Government should enact a special legislation.
To let the guilty go scot free is to render meaningless the values and ideals that the people of this country hold dear to their heart.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan on electoral reforms!

Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan M.L.A releases the journal 'Social Science in Perspective' giving a copy to Survaram Sudhakar Reddy, veteran CPI leader at C.Achutha Menon Centre, Trivandrum!
When Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan talks about India's electoral mechanisms and the reforms it needs he never beats around the bush. He is damn serious and straight. Indeed, JP, scrupulously follows Gandhiji's dictum on being the change you want to see in the world. Speaking at Trivandrum's C.Achutha Menon Study Centre on an 'Agenda for Electoral Reform' he never minced his words. JP, a medical doctor and an ex-IAS officer now turned leader of LokSatta party and legislator in Andhra Pradesh refuses to buy the fashonable middle class argument that India's electoral system is hopeless and beyond reform. Instead, he corrects the popular myth that the Election Commission can provide a panacea for free and fair elections. The Commission, to JP, is a 'overglorified institution'. Something I too agree with. The Election Commission's rightful place in an election drama is the green room.It's not to be seen on stage. Unfortunately, many Electon Commissioners beginning from T.N. Seshan have been tempted to exhibit a larger than life role before the public encouraged by mass media.

Giving the Election Commission its due place, JP remarked that one of the few powers vested in rhis body during intervals between elections is to register voters and prepare voters list. This falls solely in the Commission's jurisdiction and it is a job they are doing shabbily. The country needs a dynamic list which can be maintained by and updated in the Post Offices and though this sensible suggestion is being raised from many quarters,the Commission has obstinately refrained from implementing it.

Donning the contrarian's cap, JP said that the danger facing us is not of people wth money entering politics but the reverse of people joining politics to make money. Their success at it proves the system can be hijacked to serve vested interests.

JP demolishes the myth that money is needed for election campaign. He cites his personal example of winning the Legislative Assembly elections from Hyderabad in 2009 spending a paltry Rs.4,50,000/- while his opponents spend tens of crores. In this age of fast and rapid communication, JP mentioned, you don't need much money to send your message across to voters. If so, why do candidates and political parties spend enormous sums of money in elections, whether to parliament the assembly or local councils. The reason , to JP , lies in the operation of the first past the post system of representation we borrowed from Great Britain. At a time when the merits of continuing with it are being seriously debated in their country of origin, JP, points out that in a land of India's complexity and diversity, the ill effects are more visible than its advantages. The winning candidate in elections, often wins with less that the absolute majority of the votes polled. This manner of winning makes the marginal vote of crucial importance. A cabdidate who wins with a few hundred or thousand votes never knows from where these votes will come. This uncertainty induces candidates and parties to cast their net wide to ensure that all the votes they can get ultimately land up in their kitty. To this end they are forced to yield and cater to all sorts of demands and needs put forth by various sections. Money becomes all important to wrest control of votes and the controllers of votes. Another reason JP cited for the readiness to spend such astronomical sums was that our elected representatives see themselves part of the executive, directing and controlling administration, and never restrain themselves to law making and shaping of policies. Exercising control over the executive affords ample opportunity to make money.

JP is optimistic that a shift to alternative forms of represenation may cure some of our major electoral malpractices. He told me in personal conversation of his efforts to convince the top leaders of India's polity to efffect changes in our system of representation, how close to success he was at it and how that opportunity was missed due to inaction shown from certain quarters. He doesn't despair over the missed chance but is confident that the convergence of a younger generation of voters receptive to new ideas, rapid expansion of communication and stable economic growth will soon make inevitable what he then proposed.

JP is so modest that he acknowledges before the audience that recent changes in our election system like making candidates disclose assets and recording of criminal antecedents which got implemented after a legal battle he led are only symbolic in nature and should'nt be taken for anything radical. The real work is yet to begin, he confesses.

JP suggests that changes he recommends cannot be brought about by swimming against the current. He is for a more zen like approach, going with the flow. It is not by treating political parties as enemies that change is to be striven for. On the contrary, it is by aligning the changes and reforms required with the interests of political parties that smooth tranformation occurs. JP is all for change in this fashion which explains why he is President of a political party which contests elections and is himself aa legislator. JP, unlike many politicians is on the side of system reformers and unlike most system reformers, is on the side of politicians and political parties.

Therein lies the significance of the role he is to play in contemporary India.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shashi Tharoor - Run Out!

Shashi Tharoor's resignation from the Council of Ministers closes an innings in Indian politics. Tharoor was a poor batsman. His performance fell short of his promise. His stay in a 5 star hotel in Delhi, albeit with own funds to the tune of Rs.50 lakhs, wasn't ideal for a Minister who claims tall to be the change he wants in the world. His tweets attracted attention and controversy but they didn't end to his advantage.

The proverbial last straw was the latest round of auctions for IPL Cricket teams.

Tharoor shouted from rooftops of his role in binging IPL cricket to Kerala and a team for his home state. He was proud of his association with the Kochi team as 'Mentor' and all was well. The beans started spilling when Lalit Modi, the IPL Commissioner, revealed in a tweet that a certain Sunanda Pushkar held sweat equity worth Rs.70 crores in the team Tharoor happened to be mentoring.

All hell broke loose in media and Parliament while Tharoor failed to convincingly explain his association with the Kochi team as 'Mentor', his association with Sunanda Pushkar as fiancee and sweat equity being awarded to her. Even at the time of his resignation, many things remain a mystery.

Were Tharoor more transparent, this ignoble exit could have been averted. That he couldn't, confirms suspicions, there is more than meets the eye!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Free Anand Jon!

'Out of sight,Out of mind', the adage pierced my senses last evening when a call came from Shashi Abraham, mother of Anand Jon. In the last many months, attending to the routine, unimportant bsuiness of life, Anand Jon receded from my consiousness and I felt a prick of conscience talking to his mother. I was one of the early birds to express my solidarity with Anand Jon for it was clear he was on trial for charges that were false and trumped up. I hoped the trial court would see this and declare him 'not guilty'. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Anand's trial got vitiated by many external factors and ended in his being sentenced to 59 years in jail. Not having read the judgment of the trial court, I won't comment on it. Judicial veridcts, in civil society, are sacrosanct and our earnest belief is that they are pronounced by the Judge in a fair and independent manner. However, even without reading the judgement, from familiarity with the facts of the case and the events connected with it, I am sure, the verdict indicting Anand Jon leaves a lot of questions unanswered and issues unexplained. Anand was a victim of racial prejudice and of his own professional success, to say the least. The judgement does not succeed in allaying these suspicions which is why the movement to free Anand Jon remains vibrant, growing and active. The people associated with it are fair and honourable citizens who don't want to be identified as supporting a sex offender or criminal. That they risk their reputation in continuting to lend support to Anand is a testament to their faith in in his innocence and protest at a free and fair trial being denied to him. I hope the Judiciary and the Government of the United States of America will heed demands arising from civil society the world over and ensure justice to Anand Jon. The Indian Government should sincerely do whatever it can in this matter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Micro-level Conflicts

Scanning Page 11 of New Indian Express dated Jan 11th, Monday, brought these news items to my notice:

a)Strained relations between Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians that the country is being Islamised resulted in firebombs being thrown at many Christian churches. Authorities described these as pranks and not organized attacks for they caused only minimal damage.

b)The town of Rosarno in Southern Calabria region of Italy witnessed clashes between immigrant labourers from Sub-Saharan Africa and locals. The immigrants, mostly fruit pickers, were protesting about the appalling living conditions and low wages, while the locals wanted them thrown out of the country.

c)Analyzing data of survey conducted in Britain, David Voas, Prof of Population Studies, Manchester University pointed out that majority believed the multi-cultural experiment had failed, there was increasing opposition to Islam than to any other religion and those surveyed were even willing to limit the freedom of speech to contain religious extremism.

These news items makes me aware that many micro-level conflicts are happening around the world.They centre around geographically small areas and small populations. Unfortunately, they don’t receive the notice they deserve. Our entire attention is captured by major conflicts like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on. Is it a conspiracy of big media and big governments to entrench themselves?. Ultimately, our maturity in tackling and resolving micro-level conflicts will go to determine how safe the world will be for future generations.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Read Seneca - Prithvi Theatre!

While in Mumbai last week, I couldn't resist checking out Prithvi Theatre. 'ART' by Poor-box productions was on in the evening. It's a play that won wide acclaim and enjoyed watching it. Followed up with Irish Coffee at Prithvi Cafe.

Buzzintown published my jottings on the play and its link is provided here:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kovalam Literary Festival

The third day of the Kovalam Literary Festival turned out to be one of those occasions when performance falls short of the promise. The organizers though are not to be blamed. Perhaps situations beyond their control caused it. Shobha De failed to turn up and the first session of reading and questions by her became a cropper. The South African writer Rozena Mart who was to speak on Apartheid Literature couldn’t make it to the festival. Amitabh Kant, a senior bureaucrat in the Tourism Ministry also didn’t turn up to make readings and presentation on tourism in India. All this was disappointing but it was partially made up by the other speakers and through the endearing presence of Nanditha and Om Puri making the discussions vibrant and humorous .

Sunny weather makes blue seas off Kovalam a feast for the eyes. The festival was blessed with clear blue skies and the view of the sky and the sea from the conference hall of Taj Green Cove was magnificent, keeping you on high. The third day’s session began with rendering of poetry by Chandrakanta Muratsingh, Korobok poet from Tripura. The poems were rendered in Korobok with translation in English. It was nice to hear a poet from the North-Eastern corner of India reciting his poems in the South-West tip of the country. It gave a glimpse of the vastness and variety India truly boasts of.

Following it were readings by young Indian writers. Ira Trivedi, pretty and smart, full of energy and vivacity that took her to the reckoning in the finals of the Miss India contest read out from her book ‘The Great Love Story’. The excerpt on the life of an Indian girl in the United States and her partying and meetings with boy friends were marked by the cultural shock that happens when two traditions encounter .. The moment when the doctor informs her of her pregnancy and her tremendous effort to comes to terms with it are portrayed by Ira in graphic detail. Passages from the book she is writing are about the experiences of an 18 year old girl dying of pancreatic cancer. Ira writes this from personal experience, having spend time with the girl and seen her come to terms with her death which is imminent. Her description of the ‘divergent cell’ that causes cancer in the body and the thousands of healthy cells that fight this wayward cell are told in the form of a battle. Ira took questions from the audience and when asked as to choose between commercial success which her books have been and critical acclaim she replied in a lighter vein that it will be nice to have them together. Becoming more serious, Ira said that in life, grass appears greener on the other side and it is normal to yearn for what you do not have.

Ira was followed by Mathew Menacherry, a Keralite born and brought up in Mumbai. Mathew who is the grandson of the eminent Malayalam
writer and critic, the late M.P.Paul read out passages from his book ‘Arrack in the Afternoon’. It is the story of life in the setting of Mumbai and Mathew surprisingly describes the bar dancers and their approach and outlook towards their customers with great scientific precision. Mathew remarked that a lot of research had gone in to the writing . His descriptions of a Malayali Christian couple and their failed attempts at copulation on the first night bordered on the hilarious. This he said, emphatically, was not autobiographical. Mathew was candid enough to admit of a hangover from bacchanalian revels of the previous night and this lead to comments on dangerously rising levels of liquor consumption in Kerala.

Anuja Chauhan, author of ‘The Zoya Factor’ is an advertising professional and she brought all the charm and fizz of her profession on stage. Dimunitive, dressed casually with a beautiful necklace, she sat cross-legged on a chair, comfortable and at ease with herself and read passages from her book as though she were reading out bedtime stories to her children. The film rights of Zoya Factor, she announced, is brought by Red Chilies Entertainment. Anuja tells the story of life in a world of glitz and glamour, of cricket, advertising, movies, of astrology and luck It’s a make believe world Anuja has seen at close quarters. Anuja narrated her efforts at writing, caught between the demands of a high profile job in JWT and her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.

Palash Mehrotra author of ‘Eunuch Park’, sub-tittled ‘Stories of Love and Destruction’ made a sober difference. Deeply read and with fine intellectual tastes he is a product of Doon School, St.Stephen’s College and Balliol College, Oxford. In Palash’s stories, the protagonist is a distant figure, reflecting on events and incidents. One of the stories he read out was of life in a small –town and its Christian missionary school. The moralistic position one is forced to assume by life in small towns is vividly described in his stories. To my question, Palash pointed out that life in small towns is claustrophobic and there is very little space to dissipate one’s energies, something available in abundance in big cities.

Anita Jain breezed on stage brimming with confidence that literary success and fame brought her. Dressed in black top and skirt she seemed business-like in an American sense and proceeded to read out from her book ‘Marrying Anita’ which describes her and her parent’s search for a groom in India. Anita said it was a confessional book though her confessions were timid by American standards but shocking in India. Anita did her schooling and college in the United States and lives in India while her parents continue to reside in the United States. She read out passages describing her visit along with her parents to her maternal aunt’s house in Meerut and meeting her married first cousins after a gap of 18 years and exchanging notes . She also read out another passage where she invites a Sikh friend to her apartment and their first kiss. .Anita stated that her intention was to portray the fast changes in metropolitan India in the course of her search for a husband. Anita was told from the audience that parts of her book could be exaggerated as in urban and semi-urban India, women are free to go out, search for partners, find them and enter in to matrimony with the consent of parents and the larger family.

The post-lunch session was a talk by Prof. Sanjay Srivastava on ‘Streets, Footpaths, Gated Communities – The Cultures of Indian Pornography’. Prof. Srivastava teaches Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi. The well-researched talk was aided by slide presentations. Sanjay pointed out that pornography creates in the mind of millions of Indian males, images of the sensual woman they like to aspire for but is unattainable and unavailable. There are also ideas of a true sexuality which has to be found and failing which a man’s life remains unfulfilled. The sensual woman is white, upper class and represents in their minds, modernity. Sanjay dwelt on the explicit sexual discussions held in the columns of women’s magazines, both English and Hindi. He also referred to the badly printed magazines with pornographic tales sold on streets by small time vendors along with other magazines which exhort readers to lead ideal lives. He also spoke of gated communities where women could swing between modernity and tradition. He narrated how Karva Chauth would be observed along with drinking and dancing for Diwali parties. Prof. Srivastava has done a lot of research in his topic from a sociological viewpoint and his findings and conclusions need to be discussed more seriously.

Suresh Kohli the veteran documentary film maker was present to show his documentary on Kamala Das, the eminent writer who died recently. The women writers who read their works in the morning session stayed away from viewing it. I would say it was disrespect on their part. Kamala was an endearing person and I still cherish the moments spend in her company. Though Kamala was a bi-lingual writer, the film was restricted to her writing in English. The film was shot in the last years of her life, when she embraced Islam and started wearing Muslim dress. The frail Kamala had stopped moving out of her apartment and the entire shooting had to be done indoors. It was a poignant moment when Kamala says that she made a dinner of her past and invited all to come and share in its food and wine . It was perhaps an understatement of the anguish and suffocation she had gone through. Kamala ‘s literary life beginning with her first collection ‘Summer in Calcutta’ and comments of othe r poets like Keki Daruwalla are included in the documentary. Suresh Kohli has done a wonderful job and his work deserves a far wider audience.

With this curtains fell on the second Kovalam Literary Festival and a word of appreciation is due to Binoo John and his wife Rebecca who worked untiringly to make it a success. They did a wonderful job and in my view they should continue to organize the Third Festival in similar manner and in the same venue that the first two were held..

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kovalam Literary Festival

The Second Kovalam Literary Festival was held at the Taj Green Cove, Kovalam from Oct 7 to Oct 9. The organisers aim to make it a very prestigious event in the years to come. Taj Green Cove where the festival was held provides an ideal ambience to the whole event. The inaugural session of Oct 7th was a brief meeting in the evening while a splendid sun set against the backdrop of the Arabian Sea! published my account of it and here's the link :

My write up of day two of the litfest also got published on the same site and the link is being provided: