Friday, September 27, 2013

Throes of Cynicism

It is disheartening to see the growing cynicism within India about the political class and overall state of affairs. While undeniably every generation has to deal with its own crisis and we are midst of one, I wanted to point out that there is much to be proud of as well. 

Despite not having the basics required to sustain a democracy like, a literate population, politically aware electorate, a basic standard of living, we continue to thrive as the largest democracy in the world. 

Undoubtedly the democracy in India has its flaws but it is a rarity to see a developing country to sustain democracy (except the two years of Emergency) without at any stage slipping into a Martial Regime, like some of our neighboring countries.

Despite ‘Deep Diversity’, a term that indicates a degree of diversity that could threaten integrity of a country, India manages to surge ahead as a united political state. It achieves this with a carefully planned:
-          Special status to some states – provisioned in the constitution
-          Not declaring any language as ‘National’ language
-          Remaining neutral to Religion

Ending the Feudal system in India and ensuring peaceful integration of all the Princely states in the Indian Union. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel demonstrated strong leadership in defining the length, breadth and the depth of the country in a very calculated manner. It has been seen in many banana republics that Martial regime or autocratic dictatorial regime manages to survive due to strong support from the Feudal lords who have a vested interest of ensuring continuity to their royal lifestyle and power over common people. This could have been the biggest threat to a democratic setup.

Post- Independence India realized very soon the need of a written constitution. Within 4 years (1951), the Indian Constitution was drafted and put into practice. Pakistan struggled in this process and even the thought of needing a constitution did not arise till as late as 1973!

India’s survival is not due to it being a ‘melting pot’ (Like US) but due to it celebrating ‘unity in diversity’. The constitution very intelligently avoids use of the word ‘Federal’ but at the same time makes provision for distribution of power between the Centre and the State. The Constituent Assembly was more than aware of the danger of concentrated power and the ills associated with it yet they were wary of federalism given the ‘deep diversities’ of India.  Europe might have lesson or two to learn from India if they intend to sustain EU dream.

The first elections in independent India were held in 1952 and since then continual Electoral Reforms have aided sustenance of democracy in the country. Starting from the tenure of TN Seshan, electoral process in India has become more accountable, transparent and fair. Despite its flaws and criticism, the system has managed to get rid of many evils that plagued the electoral process viz. rigging, booth capturing, silent rigging, ballot box exchange. The master stroke of introducing Electronic Voting Machine by MS Gill further aided improving the fairness of electoral process.

Unlike some of the post-colonial developing countries India did not depend only on World Bank or IMF for its economic growth. Self Sufficiency was the motto and many industries and institutes were built and some were setup through collaboration with countries that shared common goals. We have a vibrant Private sector popularly called as India Inc that is also expanding its ambitions on foreign turf.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It was a master stroke. Despite the economic condition it was an act of courage to decide that India would remain neutral in the emerging Bi-Polar world (USA vs USSR). It assisted India to stand on its own feet and be the master of its own destiny. It is not uncommon for a developing country to succumb to external pressure and align with one camp or the other. While there is widespread criticism, in equal amount, however the strength and courage demonstrated should be admired by one and all.

Ramachandra Guha said that India is a ‘political experiment’ never attempted before and probably never to be attempted again’. It is unique in every possible way. We have problems, we have flaws, we have shortcomings and we have a long distance to go, however I strongly think that we need to understand that India is no way a banana republic. We have strong institutions like the Supreme Court, Election Commission, and Constitution which form strong pillars of seeing us through troubled times. I am sure that a politically aware youth would continue to struggle against odds and continue to pull surprises at people like Winston Churchill who famously said ‘India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator.’

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Nobel Cause

It is the Nobel Prize season again. A friend of mine would make it a point to remind me to visit the official website and check the winners, their Bio, familiarise with their work and read any initial reaction of the winners. I still diligently do that and this year is no different.

Like all fields, Academics also has it's own share of 'protectionism' and quite rightly so. Albeit a bit more protected than other fields. Nonetheless, there are awards that every field has come up with, these are to reward few people from the same fraternity who have contributed immensely to the field.  These are people who have tirelessly worked most of their lives to come up with newer ideas or newer processes or better methods of doing things, and some of them do affect our day to day lives, however intangibly it might be. Like many of the awards, you cannot win a Nobel. You can win in any sport by knowing how many points to score over the opponent, but when it comes to Nobel, it can only be Awarded. One would never get to know what one has to do to Win a Nobel. He/She can only work untiringly without even hoping that the  committee would find their work befitting of a Nobel.

Named after Alfred Nobel, the Nobel prize awarded for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Economics is a way to acknowledge the work being carried out in universities across the world, primarily, in pure sciences. The objective also is to indirectly inspire more people to continue their work in pure sciences inspite of lure from other fields. One could question is Economics a science? While it is debatable but, by restricting the award to only professors in universities carrying out research in understanding the uncertainties of the economic paradigm they legitamise it's role as a scientific field even though it wasn't in the Will of Alfred Nobel. Nobel prize awarded for Literature is an attempt to appreciate fine arts and people who have a way with words and have influenced, entire world or a part of it, quite strongly. Most of us are not equipped to say if the awarded prize in a particular field is worthy or not. Probably some awardees might be subject to jokes and ridicule in the academic world and make for good 'dirty gossip' at an university water cooler or coffee vending machine. Nonetheless one of the categories for which Nobel is awarded has been open for wider discussion and debate, this is Nobel for Peace. More so after Barrack Obama was awarded this in the second year of his presidency in 2009, though there have been other controversies in the past, for example Henry Kissenger being given the Nobel for peace in 1973 or Mahatma Gandhi never being awarded Peace prize inspite of his life long commitment to non-violence. One must note, Nobel Prize is never awarded Posthumously.

There have been people who have one the Nobel more than once. very few:

Marie Sklodowska Curie 1903 in Physics and 1911 in Chemistry
Linus Pauling 1954  in Chemistry 1962 in Peace
John Bardeen : 1956  in Physics and 1972 in Physics
Frederick Sanger 1958     in Chemistry and 1980 in Chemistry

There have been People of Indian Origin or Indian Citizens or Foreign citizen born in India who have won the award:

1902     Ronald Ross                                        Medicine                   Foreign citizens born in India
1907     Rudyard Kipling                                 Literature                   Foreign citizens born in India
1913     Rabindranath Tagore                          Literature                   Citizen of India
1930     C.V. Raman                                        Physics                       Citizen of India
1968     Har Gobind Khorana                          Medicine                   Foreign citizens of Indian origin
1979     Mother Teresa                                     Peace                         Citizen of India
1983     Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar           Physics                       Citizen of India
1998     Amartya Sen                                      Economic Sciences     Citizen of India
2001     VS Naipaul                                         Literature                     Foreign citizens of Indian origin
2009     Venkatraman Ramakrishnan              Chemistry                    Citizen of India and US

Interestingly though, no matter how aloof it might seem from most of our day to day activities, some awardees are still celebrated or disagreed widely. This is no different than Oscars where there might be multiple opinions that could exist about the legitimacy and merit of a particular performance. However I am sure this might be the most awaited season in the academic circles and am sure the awardees get to further their academic career aided by the tag of being a Nobel winner. I Invite all of you to join in the falvor of the season and try and celebrate some of the great work that is being recognized this year.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Progressive Dilemma

If we accept Darwin’s theory of evolution we would have to agree that human life has been a constant endeavor to evolve and be civilized. While physical evolution has been incidental, it is the psychological evolvement that we consciously endeavor for in all aspects of life. Psychological evolution presents many epistemological and methodological challenges. For example the idea of justice and equality, I think, has been the toughest idea to comprehend and bring consensus on. 

The gruesome crime committed on 16th of December 2012 in Delhi has brought many such fundamental questions back on the discussion table. The spontaneous eruption of countrywide protests in the aftermath of the incident and continuous ongoing reports of heinous crimes against women has shaken everybody’s conscience and also questioned the very essence of humanity in many ways. Once such a crime as rape is committed what could possibly be the appropriate punishment for the convicts of the crime? What if the convict is a juvenile? If the rape victim survives what is the appropriate method of rehabilitating and restoring her dignity and honor?

Apart from these, I think, the issue also raises deep question around how much of importance our society gives to forgiveness, reformation, genuine repentance and reintegration of a convicted criminal back into society. Every religion has given prime importance to the concept of forgiveness and repentance however as a society we humans appear to be quite intolerant towards both these factors. Infact no forgiveness or repentance ever appear to be complete, genuine or unconditional, nor is there a way to measure if we have reached the desired level with respect to either of these qualities. Also criminals present a very unique dilemma – they are a burden on the society no matter where they are, whether as part of regular society, as they could cause irreparable damage, or as prisoners locked up in a prison, as they then become beneficiary of a system that is created out of our pockets. At the same time psychologically death penalty or capital punishment has been something that many want to do away with and awarding of such a punishment has been viewed as a mark of backwardness.

The more I think of it the more complicated the matter gets and all solution seem wrong and right at the same time! I guess this is what will keep us humans in the ‘Work in Progress’ bracket and hope that with psychological evolution we make better choices among the contradictory trade offs.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Syrious Problem

I fail to understand why time and again America assumes a moral high ground and self-appoints itself as the custodian of all the basic human values. Violation to any such human values anywhere across the world somehow makes it restless till it takes an action against it. More often than not such intervention has led to disastrous consequences, sometimes more severe than the original reason why they intervened in the first place. America also remains in a perennial mode of conflict with the UN. While it wants rest of the world to toe the line drawn by the UN, it considers itself to be over and above any such rule or charter defined by the UN

In 2002-2003 USA under the Bush administration showed satellite pictures of Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapon sites and the mobility around them and used that as conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or was in the process of building one. As they prepared to attack Iraq they also sited atrocities against Iraqi populace by the Saddam regime as another reason why they should intervene. Despite repeated IAEA visits and no conclusive evidences, they attacked – caught Saddam – and made attempts at building a democracy in a country that doesn’t know what it means. Needless to say, after lives of many American soldier and Iraqi civilian were lost, after many human bombs exploded and almost a decade later to the attack – neither has Iraq known any peace nor has US of A found any WMD. This left Tony Blair red in the face for having trusted all the seemingly fake evidences that George Bush showed him. Bush has later on confessed that this was the worst mistake of his administration. 

In 2013 we are at the brink of another similar situation. Despite the ongoing UN inspection for use of Chemical Weapons in Syria and no conclusion as yet, Obama administration is preparing for a strike again with no sanction or approval by UN and no conclusive evidence. World has seen through US’s bluff during Iraq, atleast that has ensured that David Cameron doesn’t do a Tony Blair, neither does he have his parliament’s nod. France and Russia are strongly advising against such a strike.Also even if chemical weapons were indeed used, am sure there are ways of imposing sanctions or other ways of dealing with the situation than the use of Force or Military strike. The cost of such a strike would be immense for Syrians, US armed forces and needless to say the ripples of this would be felt across the world. 

Hope sanity prevails and we find a better way to resolve the situation.


Random: September 2013