Book Review: The Argumentative Indian

The Argumentative Indian in its sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India’s intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is precisely a concise version of how India evolved from its past, its not a historic narration, for it traces the roots of today’s India, in India of ancient and medieval times but is never near to mere chronological representation of events.

He conveys the need to understand the argumentative tradition of India which is rooted in its long and diverse history, culture and tradition to understand contemporary Indian. He used past events, arguments and references to emphasize the contribution of India in the field of science, medicine, mathematics, literature and ideas to the world. The author tries to deviate the reader from his western way of looking at India and rather prescribes an indigenous way to look at the Indian identity with its historical tradition of relying on reason, research, heterodoxy, deliberation,dialectic, debate and pluralism. In the realm of science, Sen debunks the India of the popular Western imagination as a land of mysticism and religion. He cautions the reader against the current narrowed view of Indian society based on class divisions, communalism and regionalism, intolerant towards others ideas and practices which goes against the very idea of India that existed in the past. His writing is class apart with his way of complementing his opinion with references.

In different essays author captures the arguments between Tagore and Gandhi (its pleasing to hear some arguments between two enlightened souls), he captures and analyses the reasons for the prevailing skewed ratios of men over women, inequality of men and women and prescribes practical solutions. Sen quotes James Buchanan’s definition of democracy: ‘as “government by discussion” implies that individual values can and do change in the process of decision- making’. He underlines that the expression of values in a democracy also determines the values themselves, as illustrated by the championing of pluralism by none other than the Mughal emperor Akbar who organized debates and public dialogues between the followers of different religious faiths of his time (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees, Jains, Jews and even atheists).

This was the most difficult books for me to read, foremost because of the difficult choice of words for a novice reader like me and then complementing it with his high valued ideas which require perfection over language to understand (which I am no way near to!), but understanding his difficult ideas along with his difficult use of words sometimes makes reading painful and difficult to grasp. But it is to be added that the ideas that author conveys requires astronomical precision to convey the correct meaning which necessitates and justifies the parlance used by him. Its just that it needs a little patience to read, my little mind wasn’t able to grasp all his ideas in one read and will go through the book once more, it’s not boring, its just that I have little command over the language and this book requires perfection in it! He is at his finest when slicing an idea, displaying a sleight of hand in posing the same question differently! The book is a must read and for me a re-read and re-review it!

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Satyamev Jayate: Episode 1 insights

Today, much awaited Aamir Khan show was aired, though not his totally, for the title belongs to us all. I feel that not only title, all what he has to say is related with us all. His efforts were visible in such a time-consuming, arduous and technically difficult show, but he has made his point.

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Today the episode was about horrifying female foeticide, which was intensively researched, and brought out some peculiar astonishing stories from around the country, parts of which continues to make headlines in the newspapers, apart from these, some unturned stones were moved, revealing those cynical intentions which are working in articulation in support of this heinous crime.

Against the general belief that female foeticide happens most in rural areas, is done by illeterates, and most poor do it. He unturned the fact, much hidden from us, that its not those tribals, or poor, or rural, rather us educated, highly literate, professionals, urban people who give heed to such a devilish and barbarous act. The underpinning fact that supports this explanation is that sex ratio is much worse in urban areas rather than rural areas.

Another overarching and acrid disclosure against popular conviction was that it all started with the governments initiative in 70’s period, when the problem of high population was scrutinized. It was argued that since people want only a boy child, why give birth to a baby girl and thus female foeticide was started as a program in government hospitals. But after some skeptical arguments by right-minded activists, it was obliterated from the government hospitals, but the menace was already done, and demand was created, people now knew that this can be done, and which continue still. Persistently embarrassing us in front of the world populace. As if this was not enough, adding onto it was the cynical intentions and deliberate stifling by the system of those journalists who tried an unnerving sting operation to promulgate those pernicious faces who are causing this havoc.

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I am no catalyst to change, but as part of Aamir’s initiative, I too am exalted and onus lies on us all to be a part of effort, and be the change which all of us want to see. What now matters is not just to think that we are part of it, lets try in our all small ways. The change may be slow and the problem momentous, but continuos efforts are required, and only if we decide to be its part this very moment.
Be a part of change, for it feels really good when Incredible India shines!!

Adieu Baichung Bhutia!

My first live football experience or in ways my first football learning session! An unforgettable night, with pinnacle feelings! This was surely a match between unequal’s in the Delhi’s JLN(Jawaharlal  Nehru) Stadium, for Indian national football team played against Bayern Munich, the top and most successful German football club. This match was also the farewell match for Indian football legend, Baiching Bhutia, this sport in India is synonymous with his name, the poster boy of Indian Football with a long career spanning 18 years! A Padma Shri and Arjuna Award winner, the first Indian player to play professional football abroad and has a football stadium (Baichung Stadium in Namchi) named after him for his contribution in Indian football!

Match took-off after Baichung was presented the Bayern’s jersey with number 15 written and signed by all Bayern players on the occasion, with Indians not forgetting to grace their favorite footballer while morally ready for a severe defeat as even a thought of a goal from Indian side was out of the question! With only a little knowledge of the game, I may not be the right man to brief the game in detail, as it was yesterday only that I learned most of the basics of the football! The screen showed the teams formation, some 4-4-2 formation, still don’t know what that was for (please enlighten me on this)! And from what it seemed, the Bayern’s shattered the Indian attack in the first half, when Indian team was not seen even fighting other than some efforts from the goalkeeper, resulting into 4 goals by the Bayern Munich who stamped their superiority. After the half time, the torchbearer of Indian football and the retiring legend was presented a marvelous peace of Audi Q8 (wow!).

Second half began with a surprise and electrifying attack by India and their raised standards, when Indians were also seen with some possession of the ball! Though the aggressive attack was short-lived they failed to find any gaps in the infrangible defense of the Germans. A few minute to the end, came the moment of Baichung’s final adios with standing ovation from the energetic and large crowd. What Bruce Coslet once said appeared to be true for Indian team: “We can’t run. We can’t pass. We can’t stop the run. We can’t stop the pass. We can’t kick. Other than that, we’re just not a very good football team right now.”

Baichung gave Indians some unimaginable moments in football to cheer for their own, moments that gave Indian football hope, moments that gave Indian football a chance to cheer, and moments that gave Indian football a chance to win. For his contributions and his promised association to continue with football through his club,  we proudly say “the end of an era but the start of a legacy”. One poster in the stands sums up the legend’s contribution – ‘Who will replace Bhaichung Bhutia’.

PS: A word on the JLN Stadium- From the management and the conditions inside it seemed that the stadium was made to serve its full services and facilities only during the common-wealth games, poor crowd management outside the stadium, uncleaned alleyway’s, nonoperational sound systems, missing garbage bins, inactive clock, were some of the features yesterday of this stadium with a capacity to hold 65000, which once witnessed the beauty of the CWG ceremonies was in its ugly face yesterday!

100 years on, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ fires India’s patriotism – IBNLive

100 years on, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ fires India’s patriotism  – IBNLive.

What is ‘National Anthem’?

In make sense of patriotism among the people of a nation, some special song is administratively accorded the status of the ‘National Anthem’. The emotion, connotations and feeling of a ‘National Anthem’ is something different from the common song.

Food Security: If bill becomes law!

UPA II brought a legislature on the food security, fulfilling an election manifesto promise, a gesture seen rarely in democratic India. But key questions are raised almost on every provision of the bill, be it the out sized amount of finances involved, its serious fiscal implications, population identification or distribution mechanisms and its large scale food grain procurement except on its noble intentions and utmost necessity. Let’s try to understand the legislation and find answers to draw a clear picture.

NFSB (National Food Security Bill): The bill aims to cover close to 64% of our total population. It proposes an imaginary division of population in general and priority households, covering nearly 75% of rural and 50% of urban population under its ambit with at least 46% in rural and 28% in urban areas under priority households and promises them the right to 7kg of food grains per person per month at subsidized rates. General category would get at least 3 kg of grains at a rate not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price. What are these unheard divisions? The division will be based on findings of socio-economic caste census carried out by the respective State Government with the financial and technical support of the Government of India, which will be used to separate out priority household from the general. Doing as promised will require 61 million tons of food grains thus an escalation in food procurement, translating into total food subsidies to Rs.1 Lakh crore. It also gives Central government usurps all powers to decide the number of people belonging to priority households and imposes a substantial level of expenditure on the State governments. In words the bill sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then why has the bill triggered slurry of criticisms? Let’s answer to the questions floating in the criticisms and see which part of the chain of food security are missing i.e. the production of food, its distribution and its absorption by the poor and hungry.

Where will the food come from? – Current average food grain procurement is 52 million tons which has peaked in the last 3 years owing to good rainfall. But if we see back, we were producing much less thus average procurement was much lower between 2002-2008. Since Indian agriculture is largely dependent on monsoons we may have years of bad monsoon and the average production will is less,  then the remaining food grain to meet the legally mandated demand will have to be imported which could climb the global prices up. The way out is to make India self-sufficient for its requirement for which we need to invest in agricultural growth, scientific irrigation, in rural roads that provide vital physical linkage to markets, in scientific storage and efficient transport logistics, in developing as close a link as possible between the farmer and the first stage of food processing, in short we need second green revolution or a evergreen revolution sooner. Ideally, we need to have all the agro reforms in place before embarking on such an exercise or else the scheme will be a non-starter or a simple failure. 

How the food will be distributed? – The distribution mechanism is centralized and raises question whether such massive exercise can be handled by FCI(food corporation of India), and can this system deliver? The food ministry earlier revealed that it costs Rs.134 per quintal to procure wheat while it costs them Rs.289 to distribute it. These enormous costs are the result of our failure to move towards a decentralized system. The way towards an efficient and financially viable distribution mechanism calls for localized innovations in productivity, to procure food at panchayat levels and involve these institutions where delivery can be ensured and fastened, which will also give way to new economic activities.  The only logical way to tackle hunger is to try different methods and see which one works best and extend the model nationally. This is how the mid-day meal scheme introduced in Tamil Nadu in was adopted nationally in 2001.

Who will be given the food? –  The bill proposes to give food to priority and general households but no clear division mechanism and is the biggest downside of the legislation which will not only divide people within same community, the criteria used will leave out many deserving households and this division of household is counter reproductive to the inclusive PDS approach in states like TN and AP. Only feasible exit is to either give everyone the same entitlement or the entitlements above poverty line be completely vanished and poorest households can continue to get special support. This bill is not India’s first crack at hunger. In the past we have had the food-for-work programme (a variant of NREGA), the Antyodaya scheme (targeted at the ultra-poor), the mid-day meal scheme for children, and the anganwadi schemes for mother and child. Above it all, we have public distribution system (PDS) which works well in some states 

What are the fiscal implications?  Even though the bill will burden the state exchequer a large amount it is unlikely that bill come into force in the entire country in one go and the subsidy will materialize right away. What is at stake, therefore, is not an immediate financial blow, but the ability of the Indian economy and public finances to accommodate this Bill over a period of time. We definitely need food security and the amount involved cannot be the reason for not doing it.

 Is it another ‘common-man’ stunt? –  Since the economic growth model is not inclusive, rising inflation and chronic global economic fluctuations are bound to make India’s war on poverty difficult. So the fact is that the country’s poor need subsidized food to be able to spend their earning on their important needs, like health care and children’s education. The government, on the other hand, by its very nature, has to balance contradictions in society and hence has an obligation to providing the poor with a minimum sense of existence. Based on this thought, the Food Security Bill should be welcomed. Hence, the administration of food security is a challenge beyond budgetary numbers, which seems to have caught everyone’s attention! 

 The truth is that food security comes from ensuring three things: creating jobs and income, ensuring higher food output by raising productivity, and creating a safety net to feed those who can’t do so themselves in distress situations. The proposed subsidies can help the efforts but it cannot eliminate the problem. And the food security bill is just one approach to the problem and is certainly a flawed one!

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Bharat Ratna: The great needs certificate, the popular do not !

Justice Markandey Katju, bold and candid views, which are making headlines since his appointment as PCI chairman, who recently remarked it a mockery of Bharat Ratna if given to sportsperson and film stars, saying they have “no social relevance” in the backdrop of the demand for conferring the coveted award to batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and hockey legend Dhyan Chand.

An image of the Sun along with the words "Bharat Ratna", inscribed in Devanagari script, on a peepul leaf

Let’s first know more about the award. Bharat Ratna, The highest civilian award and the most prestigious among all national honors which includes Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri, all established by the first president of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1954, is conferred for the highest degrees of national services towards advancement of art, literature, science and in recognition of Public Service. Lately in 2011, after approval from the MHA (Ministry of home affairs) and PM, Bharat Ratna can now be awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order “in any field of human endeavor” – covering almost all the fields that had earlier remained out of the purview of this civilian award, making likes of Sachin, Dhyan Chand and others eligible for the award.

To me what they do, certainly have social relevance and they make contribution to society in their own way, but their work is highly commercial and society is already paying an exorbitant cost for the same. After all, whatever the sport stars or movie stars bring to their country, it cannot be strictly defined as contribution, but a chosen career that brings fame to them in the course of excellence. Tendulkar, I know is way beyond cricket. When he plays, some millions of us forget our worst pains, when he kicks a century or drives a four, millions of us forget their failure in lives and get the inspiration to move ahead irrespective of all odds. But, Anyone who inspires a common man is a HERO!. Giving due diligence to the iconic Sachin who made India dream with along with him for the World Cup, or to Dhyan Chand, the wizard who won three consecutive Olympic Golds(1928, 1932, 1936) at the time when India was not much developed in sports and in whose honor we celebrate the National Sports Day. I still feel that amending rules to pave way for them, to some extent dilutes the spirit of the award as the likes of Sachin or Lenader Peas or Vishwananthan Anand are well recognized and receive enough exaltation anyway; also there is Rajiv Gnadhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest honor for achievement in sports, while other awards are also not in short supply for them.

The government should spare the Bharat Ratna for those with social relevance and contribution, for they work invisibly in public service or in nation-building activities without any want for returns. Social relevance as a factor would make the Bharat Ratna a distinguished award. As they have less platforms which can encourage and recognize their efforts.

Current liberalized norms surely needs some ramifications as demands are to bestow it even on ace Shooter, Abhinav Bindra who won us our first individual Olympic gold, but does that make him a contender in the race of Bharat Ratna when in other countries, there are various sportsperson who have individually won multiple gold?

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