Dec 15, 2011

Re-thinking dietary choices

It is estimated that nearly 100 million people died due to hunger & malnutrition across the world in the last decade. Approx 24,000 people people still die everyday for the same reasons. These are huge numbers. To put them in perspective, think about this - about 23 people will die by the time you finish reading this post (~90 sec). The vast majority of the victims of this problem are children under age 10. And that's just the death count. It is estimated that more than 800 million people suffer from hunger & malnutrition in the world today.

In this post, I will present a point of view on some of how YOUR food choices may be contributing to this problem. Not common-sense things like wasting food, not finishing your meals etc., but how choices like buying organic foods and turning vegetarian/vegan - which most people believe are 'green' and help 'save the planet', and are thus becoming increasingly popular - might actually be doing more damage than good.

1. Organic Foods

It is becoming quite fashionable these days to buy organic foods at the supermarkets. Just pause and think - If 'organic' food is 'better', why is most food we get not organic? Most of the food grown and consumed across the world today cannot be classified as 'organic' because it uses one or more of the following:
  • Hybrid or genetically modified variety of the crop
  • Chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc
  • Modern agricultural or food-processing methods such as irradiation etc.
The reasons the above materials/methods are used are several but the end objective can be summed up in one phrase - to increase the yield. GM or hybrid plant varieties generally produce more end-product per unit area (kg/sq.m.). Fertilizers help this further. Pesticides etc. ensure the health of the plant and avoid crop losses due to disease - think of it as equivalent to inoculation among humans. The other methods mentioned also ensure that a greater proportion of the food produces is safely consumed by people.

Higher yields have allowed us to properly feed an ever-growing human population, and also freed up a larger percentage of people for other vocations. The human population has more than quadrupled since 1900, and the amount of land available to us for agriculture hasn't increased. In fact, with increasing urbanization, it will actually decrease over the next century, while the world population is not likely to stabilize below the 10 Billion mark. In such a situation, increasing agricultural yield and minimizing wastage is an absolute imperative, not a matter of choice.

Every time you buy organic food, keep in mind that you are indulging yourself in a luxury at somebody else's cost. That 'organic' tomato may taste better and be slightly better for your own health, but it means at least 20% of the available production capacity (perhaps much more) was lost where it was produced. Simply put, 5 organic tomatoes were produced where 6 or more bigger tomatoes could have been produced using non-organic methods. Another child died in the time it took for you to read about these hypothetical tomatoes. What is your priority - saving these children, or buying products for nebulous, unproven reasons like 'conserving the environment'? 

2. Vegetarianism

The likes of PETA often implore you to adopt a vegetarian diet. Hell, their ads are so hot even I am tempted at times. Look at exhibits 1, 2 (both Pamela Anderson) and 3 (our own Lara Dutta). They say we should do this to prevent cruelty to animals. Hmmm. Let's dig a little deeper.

Why do we eat meat anyway? I mean - we evolved from apes who are mostly herbivorous. Foragers. Homo Sapiens as a species has never had the physical strength or speed to physically dominate other animals. We do not even have the typical phyical features (claws, jaws or teeth) that all carnivores share, so it would be fair to say that nature never designed us to be effective hunters. So how did we even start eating animals?

It's easy to guess - the human population is always growing. Initially, we foraged and hunted a bit, but this wasn't enough to feed us consistently, so we started farming. That couldn't completely solve the problem either. 

Since most of my friends and readers of this blog are Indians, I will digress a bit here and explain this point. In our country, we are extremely fortunate have plenty of fertile land and a climate that allows agriculture pretty much round-the-year. There are parts of the country where 3 crops are grown each year. So, historically, we've had enough vegetarian food for everyone and had the luxury of saying no to meat for religious reasons.

The rest of the world has never had this luxury. Deserts, grasslands, freezing winters with snow etc. have severely limited their ability to produce enough to feed themselves through just farming - and they had to consume animal products. In England, for example, they can't really grow anything other than potatoes - which is why their diet has traditionally included  meat, cheese and mashed potatoes! Everything else is 'imported'.  

This also explains why the Buddhist populations of regions in East Asia and Sri Lanka eat things that most of us in India would balk at the very thought of, even though Buddhism (the Indian version, at least) strictly forbids killing animals. Unlike Indian Buddhists (Hindus), people in other regions never had any other choice. 

In any case, we only eat a part of the crop. Of a cereal crop, we only eat the grain. Of most other plants, we only eat the fruit, the seed (rarely, the flower) or the roots. The rest of the plant - stem, branches, leaves etc. - are largely useless because our species can't digest complex carbohydrates like cellulose. Our ancestors were smart enough to realize that some animals - like cattle, goats, sheep etc. - could be fed things we grow but can't consume directly and then we could eat the animal products - milk or eggs, and meat. It was necessary for survival, and actually made our diet more wholesome. 

A good example here is Yaks in the Himalayan region. The yaks eat grass, don't eat grain, and humans depend on yak - as beasts of burden and sources of dairy during their lives, and for fur/wool and meat upon their death. Otherwise, a lot of people in these regions couldn't survive at all.

So - returning to the original premise - since there is already a shortage of food in the world and people are dying of hunger and malnutrition, we have to make the most of all resources available. This includes eating dairy products and non-vegetarian food. It is the only sensible thing to do.

As for the cruelty to animals argument, I feel it is largely exaggerated. Real examples of cruelty include cases like the Bile bears in China, and here I agree we should stop cruel practices and look for alternatives. However, animal farming does not generally involve cruelty. Farm animals are properly fed and taken care of their whole lives. Most of them don't even have to work for their food like animals in the wild - they are provided their feed. In fact, it is well-known that meat with more fat is tastier, and it usually commands a higher price, so it is in the animal farmers' interest to ensure the animals are the equivalents of pot-bellied men living sedentary lives! In the Kobe region of Japan, you'd rather be a cow than a human. You'd be pampered with a massage and 6 bottles of beer per day! 

Keep in mind - most farm animals wouldn't even be alive if they weren't going to be used as food. In many cases, farm animals are inoculated and their health is taken care of by the farmers. They just eat/graze, fool around, live comfortable, happy, disease-free lives, grow fat and eventually die. A lot of them also have names and receive some amount of affection from their owners. The slaughter is usually a quick and clean process, typically after the animal has already lived through it's prime years. Much better than, say, a young deer being hunted by a tiger or swallowed by a python. As a %age, more people probably die painful deaths due to stress, disease or accidents than animals bred for food. Where's the cruelty?

Also, scientifically speaking, plants are also living things. They breathe, they grow, they absorb nutrients from the soil, they reproduce and eventually die. The main difference is that animals can express their emotions and die in a manner that we can relate to, and thus feel bad about. Who is to say with certainty that plants do not feel pain? Maybe it's just in a manner we don't understand and so do not feel guilty about. In any case, plants are as 'living' as are animals - and to choose to eat one and not the other is just a combination of ignorance and hypocrisy.

3. About conservationists

At the end of it all, the world can be divided into two sets of people. One set feel that we take too much from mother earth, spoil the natural balance etc. and we should make a greater effort at conserving the earth, and generally regress. These are the people who want you to turn vegan, buy organic, and not use fuel. While these people are inebriated with their own false sense of righteousness, there are millions of human beings dying of hunger and malnutrition in the world. I feel it is criminal to worry about animal rights ahead of starving Africans, and it goes against a most basic natural principle - survival of the fittest. 

If they really believe the human race has grown too big and is taking too heavy a toll from the planet, I think the best thing they can do is, well, knock themselves off. That way, they will stop breathing up all of our oxygen, consuming valuable energy and all sorts of other products drawn from nature. In the process, they can also rid themselves of their guilt and rid us of the nuisance - so everybody wins, including mother earth!

If they choose not to do so, they should just shut up and stop trying to tell others how to, or how not to, live our lives. Try doing something useful - like finding a cure for cancer.

(I have focused on dietary choices here, but similar arguments can be made against most 'green', or 'pro-earth' phenomena. I believe the human race still has a lot to achieve and too many real problems to solve, to get bogged down by perceived, hypothetical or potential threats to the environment or other species. If or when it is proven that we need to change our ways to avert a disaster, I'm sure we will. I have great faith in human ingenuity and ability to solve problems and survive, when needed.)

(Another aspect to this whole discussion could be spiritual but I have absolutely no interest in going there, as I am a very materialistic and objective person. I would direct spiritual people to the questions posed by Javali in the Ramayana. Till you come up with some satisfactory answers and evidence for your beliefs, don't bother me.)

Dec 9, 2011

The Wonder named Virender - A Tribute


Earlier this year, my friend Gokul and I were watching the Final match of the 2011 Cricket World Cup together at my place. During the innings break, we rushed to the ATM in our apartment complex, as neither of us had enough cash to pay for the dinner that we were going to order in. Unfortunately, a lot of people had the same idea and there was a long queue at the ATM. When we were running back to the house, we heard the collective groan of 1,000+ flats, which was followed by an eerie silence. We knew India had lost an early wicket. "Please god", we said, "if India have lost a wicket, please let it be Sachin and NOT Sehwag!"

Before I get accused of blasphemy by the majority of my fellow countrymen, let me clarify that the above statement is NOT meant to undermine Sachin - any sane cricket fan knows Sachin is one of the greatest to have ever played the game, and I grew up worshiping him myself. The statement is only meant to underscore the value of Virender Sehwag today.

Early Days

I remember the first time I noticed Viru. It was the summer break (from college) in 2001, and I was at my grandparents' house in Delhi watching an India-NZ ODI on the TV, and talking to Gokul (ya, same fella as earlier) on the phone. We were both amused by this 'clone-of-Sachin' - as Sehwag was known in his early days - playing an innings that Sachin would have been proud of. Not only was he of similar stature, he had a stance, style and strokes very similar to Sachin's, and he went on to score a dominant 70-ball 100, opening the batting with Ganguly. The resemblance was uncanny.

With a simplicity and refreshing candor that were to become his hallmarks over the next decade, he admitted that Sachin was his idol and he'd tried to model his game on Sachin's. The fact that he could score a remarkable 70-ball 100 while performing mimicry on the pitch, should have been enough to signal to the world just how special he was, though it actually took a few more years for the potential to be realized.

It wasn't long before we saw the master and the clone bat together in Sehwag's debut Test in South Africa, collaring an attack that included Pollock and Ntini on a lively Bloemfontein pitch. They got together with India tottering at 68/4 in the very first session, and put together an inspiring partnership of 220 runs in just 47 overs! India still lost the match, but we knew that Sachin was no longer going to be a lone warrior for India.

A Test middle-order crowded with big names (something that rings true even today) meant that Sehwag could not quickly cement his place in the Indian Test side, in spite of the heroic debut. Trying to make the best of a difficult situation, the team management pushed him into an opening role in England. While fans like me were happy to see Sehwag in the side, we were worried that putting him into an unfamiliar opening role in testing English conditions - especially considering the perceived weaknesses in his batting technique, limited footwork etc. - was a recipe for disaster. Sehwag, as is his wont, made a mockery of such concerns by scoring 84 off 96 balls in the first innings of the first Test at Lord's, and went one better and scored a century in the next Test at Trent Bridge.

Pwning 'em

Sehwag deserves a large part of the credit for tilting the scales in India's favor in the famed rivalry with Pakistan. Since Miandad's famous last ball six in the '86, Pakistan had pwned India in general, with the curious exception of World Cup matches. At the turn of the millennium - with Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, and Saqlain forming a formidable bowling attack - Pakistan's dominance seemed set to continue, and maybe become even stronger - despite several absolutely heroic efforts from Sachin. However, the tables turned decisively in 2003-4. First, there was the World Cup win - which Sachin dominated with his 98, with the upper cut for 6 off Shoaib being the lasting memory from that game. But Sehwag also played a small role in that win - scoring 21 off 14, helping India get to 50 in 5-odd overs, and putting Pakistan on the back-foot immediately. Since then, his dominance of this opposition has been thorough. He became the first Indian to score a triple hundred, and he did it against Pak in Pak - something that would have been unimaginable a few years earlier. His Test average against Pak is an astonishing 91.1 at a strike rate of 80 with 4 centuries from 9 test matches.

Another opposition Sehwag has pwned is Sri Lanka. In the same decade that Murali went on to create all sorts of records, Sehwag averaged 72.9 at a strike rate of 99.3 against SL in test matches, including 5 centuries (two doubles)! In the 2008 series, where Ajantha Mendis completely bamboozled all of India's famed middle-order batsmen, with able support from Murali, Sehwag managed to win a test match almost single-handedly, scoring a double hundred in the first innings and a quick 50 in the second.

Readers might be surprised to know that Sehwag also has an average of 59.5 in Australia, with 2 centuries. These include a 195, when he got out trying to reach 200 with a six (2003), and a match-saving 151 in the second innings of a test (2008) where the next highest score by an Indian batsman in the second innings was 20.

With nearly 8,000 runs, 22 centuries, an average of 52 overall (and a respectable 46.6 away from home) at an incredible strike rate of 82 in Tests, I don't think anyone can argue against Sehwag being one of the great Test batsmen of all time. Keep in mind - most of this has been achieved as an opener - not his natural role, and one which exposes his technical weaknesses against the fast, swinging ball to a greater extent.

Short-term Impact

When it comes to ODIs, critics often complain about Sehwag's rather-ordinary batting average of 35, and his fans counter with arguments about the 'impact' he creates with his high strike rate at the top of the innings. This was best illustrated in the semi-final against Pak in the recently concluded World Cup. Sehwag only managed 38 runs. But he did so off 25 balls, and in doing so, took India to 48 in 6 overs on a pitch where all other batsmen from both sides - Sachin included - struggled to score at a run rate of even 5 an over. The momentum Sehwag provided allowed the batsmen who followed him to take their time getting in and not feel any 'scoreboard pressure', as the innings run rate did not drop below 6 till the middle of the Indian innings, in spite of all batsmen going rather slow.

Also, Umar Gul - with his reverse swing and yorkers - had being Pakistan's main weapon with the ball, especially in the batting powerplay and towards the end of the innings. Sehwag took him for 21 runs including 5 boundaries in his very first over. Gul never recovered psychologically from that assault, and finished the day with 8-0-69-0 in what was not really a high-scoring game. This is the 'impact' we talk about. It may not seem like a lot statistically, but is often the crucial difference between winning and losing matches. (India won this game by about 30 runs)

Another example of impact was the 1st test against Eng in Chennai, 2008. India were set a target of 387 in the 4th innings, with just under 4 sessions to play. The first three innings had seen Eng score 316/10, India reply with 241/10, and Eng declare at 311/9. When India came out to bat, people thought only two results were possible - an Eng win, or a draw. India won that game by 6 wickets and nearly a whole session to spare. Strauss had scored 100's in both innings, and Sachin had scored 103* in India's second innings, taking them home. Yet, the man-of-the-match award was given to Sehwag for his 83 off 68 balls in the fourth innings - because it was his innings that had made the final result even possible.

If you want to understand impact even better, try playing fantasy cricket when there's a major tournament on, like any ICC event or the IPL. In fantasy cricket, points are awarded not only for runs scored, but also milestones achieved, strike rate, man-of-the-match awards etc. This will help you appreciate Sehwag's impact better!

Sure, we all wish he would be more consistent - but therein lies the paradox. If what he did was easy and happened often, it wouldn't be so special! 

Numbers Game

Most people may not realize that Sehwag has been more consistent since his return to the ODI side in 2008 (he was briefly dropped in 2007, and the break clearly did him a world of good and helped him sort things out in his head).

Let's play with the numbers a bit - they tell an interesting story. Since his return to the ODI side in 2008, Sehwag has averaged 47.35 at a strike rate of 123. He has scored 7 of his 15 ODI 100's in this period, and all 7 have resulted in India winning. In fact, of the 15 occasions Sehwag has ever crossed 100 in ODIs, India has won 14 times (93%). The only game where a Sehwag century didn't win it for India was back in 2002 in New Zealand, where he scored 108 (off 119) chasing NZ's 254, but received no support from the other batsmen (the next highest was a lousy 24 by Kaif).

Since 2008, Sehwag has played 62 ODIs for India. Of these, India have won 38 and lost 19 (win ratio 2:1). However, when Sehwag has scored at least 30 (34 occasions), this ratio goes up to nearly 3:1. When he crosses 50 (19 occasions), this ratio jumps dramatically to 8:1. And a Sehwag century (7 occasions) has always ensured a win. That is impact.

For perspective, in the same period, Sachin has played 46 matches for India, averaging a slightly better 52.4 at a considerably lower strike rate of nearly 93. India have won 29 and lost 12 (~2.5:1 win ratio) of all these matches. With a Sachin 50+ score (14 occasions), this win ratio jumps up to 11:3, or just under 4:1. When Sachin completes a 100 (7 occasions), India's win ratio actually drops to 2:1. I will say no more (though I have in an older post).

Not just a dasher...

Some people also say Sehwag is a one-dimensional player, or a flat track bully. For the latter argument, I will just point out to his record - nearly 8,000 runs each in both Test matches and ODI's, with big hundreds against all major oppositions and in all major countries. The only country where his record leaves something to be desired is England, but while I concede that his technique and approach probably aren't good enough to achieve great success as an opening batsmen in English conditions, I don't think that one chink in the armor is nearly enough to deny his claim to greatness.

I will address the 'one-dimensional' argument in a bit more detail, citing his performance in IPL 2011. He came up with 3 amazing innings, each in a very different context.

Against a Kings XI Punjab side that included Valthaty, Gilchrist and Shaun Marsh, on a friendly wicket, Sehwag knew Delhi needed a big score. He managed 77 off 35 balls, powering DD to a mind-boggling 231 in 20 overs. David Warner, one of the most destructive batsmen in the game, also managed 77, but off 48 balls. Sehwag is the only batsmen capable of making the likes of Warner and Tendulkar appear like they're playing anchor roles. Despite a sublime 95 by Marsh, Punjab learnt that you can't win when Sehwag has a good day.

Anyway, that was a home game, DD were batting first, and Sehwag had good support from Warner. In a later away game vs DC, Delhi found themselves chasing a formidable target of 175. Delhi were 25/3 in the 6th over. The rest of DD scored 60 runs of 60 balls and lost 5 wickets, with the highest individual score being 17. Sehwag scored 119 off 56 and won the game single-handedly. Mind you - the DC attack included an in-form Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra. If the earlier example was about carefree destruction, this one was all about mental strength and performance under pressure.

In between these games, Delhi traveled to Kochi and were greeted by a terrible pitch with extremely variable bounce. So much that a few balls almost rolled along the ground after pitching on a good length. The rest of DD scored 77 off 74 balls for the loss of 6 wickets.  Kochi - whose top 6 batsmen had all represented their respective countries in T20Is, some with great success, were bowled out for 119 in 18.5 overs. Sehwag, earlier, had scored 80 off 47 balls. This innings was all about batting skill, dealing with a difficult pitch and a good bowling attack.

Three different situations - different grounds, different opponents, different challenges. One end result.

Final Word

Sachin's discipline and serious demeanor contribute a lot to his god-like status. When Sachin is discussed, you feel like you are in a temple or a university - there's a generally serious air to it all, you're supposed to be respectful - even reverent, listen to those with more knowledge than yourself eulogize him, and not ask too many questions.

Sehwag's simple character, candid speech, and generally casual and carefree attitude make it difficult to take him too seriously, and while people recognize how destructive he can be, I don't think he gets enough credit for all that he has contributed to his team's wins. I hope to see that change over the next few years, and for him to take his rightful place in history as one of the most special talents - a great entertainer and a regular match-winner - to have ever wielded the willow on a cricket field!

In the meantime, I will continue to watch every innings of his. When Sehwag is batting, everything else can wait. It's good - in a twisted way - that he doesn't often bat for very long periods, so you can usually return to wherever and whatever you were planning or supposed to be doing, without too much delay (and just follow the score online). But when he does produce one of his specials, like he did yesterday, it is well worth screwing up your schedule to witness it!

(PS: Thanks to and their Statsguru tool - for all the links!)

Nov 29, 2011

Random Brangelina Rant

I often get quite irritated by things and people that don't make sense, but am usually too lazy to pen down a blog post about them. As regular readers would know, my posts are usually long, and I put a lot of effort into them. Most of the times, the irritants simply don't seem worth the time and effort.

A great case in point is Sonu Nigam (don't know how many u's, i's, g's, a's, m's etc. he uses to spell his name these days, so I'm going to go with the original, simple spelling. In any case, his career has only been heading downhill for many years now, despite all the numerological  interventions - so why bother). I had almost been motivated enough to tear into him after his very gay, pony-tailed, white-clothed performance of 'My heart will go on' at the 2011 Filmfare awards, which I had unfortunately been subjected to (on TV) while awaiting my turn at the barber shop.

But I even let that go. However, Angelina's big pouty mouth - that I found oh-so-hot when I first watched Girl, Interrupted and Gone in 60 Seconds during my days at IITM - has become such a prodigious and relentless crap-fountain that I feel compelled to let off some steam here.

Why now, you might validly ask. I read in this morning's newspaper that Brangelina are planning to adopt another kid from Ethiopia ("control, Smoochy, control..."). The article went on to explain this was because they wanted their earlier-adopted daughter Zahara to have a sibling from her native region that she could relate to, and because it would be their 7th kid - and would bring them more luck and happiness (Snap!! "That does it!")

For starters, Zahara was six months old when adopted. Since then, she has been brought up in magnificent mansions worth millions of dollars, received a lot of attention from the paparazzi and her only conscious memories would be of an obscenely opulent lifestyle. Her ability to relate to a poor orphan from Ethiopia cannot be any greater than a goat's.

As for Brangelina wanting 'more luck and happiness' - yeah, right they need and deserve that more than anyone else in the world right now.

If this was a one-off, it wouldn't have bothered me or anyone else, but let's look at the history here.

Brangelina already have six kids - 3 adopted, and 3 of their own.

  • Of their adopted kids, one is Cambodian, one Ethiopian and one Vietnamese. In fact, one of their own biological kids was born in Namibia has a Namibian passport! 
  • If that doesn't sound messed up enough, Angelina once said she resented her own biological daughter because she wasn't 'born into hardship'. Like it's the kids fault. I'm sure the kid would also rather have been born in a normal household where her mom actually loved her.  
  • Angelina went on to say she loved the adopted kids more because they were 'fighters' - as if they'd become wise, black-belt Ninjas in the first few months of their lives before they were adopted and imported into aforesaid magnificent mansions. 
  • The boys' names (formal, not nicknames) are Maddox, Pax and Knox. Maddox, Pax and Knox. Normal people put more thought into naming their pets. Or even their cars.

Now, I'm not against adoption - especially of the kind where people from the Western world adopt unwanted children from the third world - but it should not be based on whims. Parenting is a huge, serious responsibility, and I'm sick of repeatedly reading the various ways in which Brangelina are making a mockery of the whole thing. I almost feel bad for the kids - there is NO WAY IN HELL they are going to grow up to become mature, responsible, successful adults.

And I feel bad for myself - because I know I'll continue coming across shit like this in the papers for many years to come...

Nov 1, 2011

Indian GP, Hamilton n Massa...

First up, I'm really happy that India now hosts our own F1 race, and that the event went off quite smoothly - one canine intervention aside. F1 is still pretty much a first-world sport involving big money and cutting-edge technology, and hosting a race weekend is a sign that India is arriving on the big stage. I'm happy and proud of this, but I'm sure enough and more has been said about this in many places, so I will not go on.

Though finally watching one in HD was nice, the race itself was mediocre and followed the usual patterns. Vettel - as usual - ran away at the front. Button - as is becoming usual - followed him in a strong second. Webber - as usual - found himself competing with cars he should really have been ahead of, and provided some entertainment. As usual, Alonso drove well to get a podium place his car didn't necessarily deserve. Also as usual, there weren't too many spectacular performances or exciting moments on track. And Massa and Hamilton crashed - and it is disturbing that this can also be classified as 'usual' now.

Now, it is no secret that I'm a huge Hamilton fan. I will try and be objective in my analysis of this situation - though I don't expect to succeed :)

Part 1: Lewis Hamilton

There is no denying that Hamilton is one of the more aggressive drivers on track, and some of his overtaking attempts are quite optimistic. When he pulls them off, they look spectacular, but when something goes wrong, he also looks quite idiotic. In both scenarios, he's generally had to deal with consequences - either finishing races higher than other most drivers would have in his situation, or having accidents, penalties and losing places. Increasingly, he has been accepting the blame and apologizing to everyone when something goes wrong.

I would think this is quite acceptable, and very entertaining, if also a bit frustrating. But a lot of people have been criticizing him very harshly and consistently. They don't seem to think he is human and can make mistakes, nor are they satisfied with the consequences he's suffered as a result of those mistakes. They seem to think that the way he races is fundamentally wrong and he needs to change. This I don't understand.

As I see it, he drives on the limit, tries to finish in front of everyone else, and is ready to take some risks in the process. Isn't that the way 'racing' is supposed to be? What exactly do people want to see him do differently? Drive slower? Simply follow other cars that may be ahead of him, even if they are slower? Not do anything that involves risk? Effectively become another 'shrewd' driver like Button or Alonso, rather than the 'spectacular' one he currently is? I guess this may help him finish more races, maybe score points more consistently (even if it's fewer points than he potentially could) - but it will rob him of character, the sport of excitement, and the fans of entertainment.

I think the real reasons he receives so much criticism are
(a) He is a McLaren driver. Followers of F1 are predominantly Ferrari fans, and McLaren is the one team that has consistently been the arch-rival they hate.
(b) Schadenfreude. He is the opposite of conservative, defensive, humble, modest or insecure. He lives a glamorous life. People like to see such individuals fall. Not nice, but it's human nature.

That being said, he does need to get his act together. While he doesn't necessarily need to change his driving style too much, he should try and learn from his mistakes and exercise better judgment particularly when it comes to where & when he makes his overtaking attempts.

In some other forms of racing, people race in lanes so you can't block others - that's considered unfair. In most other forms of racing, even when there aren't separate lanes, someone's who's quicker can go around the outside of someone they want to pass. There is an 'ideal' racing line, but going off it typically means only doing a few yards extra - which shouldn't be a problem if you're quicker and the race distance is long. In F1, however, overtaking is notoriously difficult because of the both the racing conditions and rules. Not only does this hurt the sport's popularity, it treads a thin line between 'challenging' and 'unfair'.

But the men in charge, particularly race stewards, care much more for discipline than fairness or competition or entertainment. So the fact is - overtaking in F1 is, and will continue to be, very difficult. Drivers in front will not always yield when they should. Lewis needs to accept this, and find ways to work around these restrictions, be a little more careful and avoid confrontations. F1 is a complicated sport, and it isn't always just about being the quickest out on track. People like Montoya and Raikkonen were also talented, but couldn't quite come to terms with all the demands of the sport. Hamilton has to avoid going the same way, if he wants to achieve much more than just one WDC title in his career.

Part 2: Felipe Massa

Frankly, I hope we don't see Massa next season. At Ferrari, he is a waste of a racing seat and they should replace him with a young talent who could get better results and potentially win titles once Alonso retires. Even if they don't want someone to seriously challenge Alonso, they can find a better #2.

Some of my friends are Felipe Massa fans and a lot of people think he's a pretty good driver. But he isn't, really. Massa is in his 6th season at Ferrari and he has finished with fewer points than his team-mate in all but one season - and that was the season where Raikkonen had a melt-down, losing his mojo, Ferrari contract and eventually his place in F1. People say the best yardstick for an F1 driver's performance is his team-mate's, and Massa has been outperformed by three different team-mates in his five years at Ferrari, and in recent times, Alonso has been totally mopping the floor with him.

Sure, he has won a few races in the past and got some good results for Ferrari but all that's happened in seasons where Ferrari had the quickest (or nearly-there) car. Of his 11 wins, 8 have come off pole, and the other 3 also off the front row. In these 3 races - in one, he beat Kubica into turn one off the line, in another he passed Kimi who had a mechanical problem midway through the race, and the third wasn't even a real win - Hamilton finished 1st but was given a 25-sec penalty later. The point is - he hasn't ever won a race starting behind the front row or doing anything special on track, something which the really good drivers like Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and even Jenson Button have all done. With so many young talented drivers around, and so few seats available, it's time Ferrari gave someone else an opportunity. They don't stand to lose much.

Of course, Massa could drive for one of the lesser teams next season - and this is most likely what would happen, but I wish it doesn't. I feel Massa in a slower car will become an even bigger problem. In a quick car, especially starting from the front row, he can do well - but he simply doesn't know how to race in the mid-field and is a risk to his own safety as well as others'. When under pressure, he tends to make a lot of mistakes - spinning when it's wet, hitting walls or kerbs trying to go faster in the dry. These are not 'racing' errors like Hamilton's - those typically involve wrongly guessing what the other guy will do - Massa's mistakes are generally basic driving errors of his own.

In the mid-field, I don't expect Massa to punch above the weight of his car and overtake lots of people because he's never really shown that ability in all these years. The biggest problem will occur when other people come up to overtake him.

There is a 'proper' way to defend a position on a race track. A good driver in a slower car can compensate for some lack of car performance with his own driving skills. He pushes his car as fast as it can go - braking late, using KERS etc. smartly, and taking lines that make it difficult for the guy behind to catch up and pass. Hamilton delivered a master-class in defensive driving in Korea. Even though Webber had a quicker car, he simply couldn't get past. Even when he drew alongside Hamilton - actually passing him once - Hamilton managed to get back in front by going quicker. That was skill. Vettel has shown the same defensive skill on several occasions, especially races like Monaco earlier this year, and Alonso is an absolute master when it comes to this.

But even with great driver skill, the car in front needs to be reasonably competitive - if it is slower by half a second or more, and the car behind has the DRS option as well, it is only a matter of time before he gets past. A sensible driver realizes this, and yields when he has to. Tough, but fair - that's the key.

Felipe Massa lacks the skill, the sense or the spirit to fairly defend his position against a quicker car. His 'defence' typically relies on physically impeding the other car, stubbornly sticking to the racing line, and not yielding space for the other guy to race. As it stands, Massa's defensive strategy works on the assumption that the other guy will always back off to avoid contact, and Massa himself owns no responsibility for the same. This is reflected in his statement after the Indian GP: "I simply stayed on the ideal line, braking on the limit and staying on the part of the track that was rubbered in. What else could I do?" This explanation simply ignores the fact that there was another car already on the same part of the track! Massa clearly doesn't know how to handle that situation, and in a mid-field car, he'll find himself in this situation often. I suspect he'll end up in a pile many times, taking down other quicker-but-unfortunate drivers with him, unless the rules change.

Mentally, as well - Massa doesn't seem to have recovered from his injury in 2009. He has simply not performed well, and does not appear to be confident or secure in his own position. He has had six incidents with Hamilton this year and one or two brushes with Webber as well. Even though he was in the slower car in every single one of these instances, he doesn't seem to think he was at fault in any way. In most of the incidents with Hamilton, Hamilton suffered damage, got penalized and fell further behind Massa, but finished the race well ahead of Massa each time. In two races - Monaco and India - Massa later made mistakes, damaged his car and had to retire, but even for that he blamed Lewis rather than himself.

After the last few races, Massa has whined about being denied potential podium positions. The fact is - Alonso has been performing at a much higher level to reach the podium, and Massa hasn't looked like getting there even if there weren't any incidents. His words just sounds delusional, and I suspect they are masking insecurity and frustration. I doubt if he can come to terms with the position where he finds himself now, or where he might find himself in the near future. I think he will become increasingly bitter like Barrichello has, and have lots of midfield accidents like Coulthard did, after they passed their peaks in top teams. So, I think it'll be best for everyone if his F1 career ended here.

Oct 29, 2011

For those whining about the F1 Indian GP

It seems to be the season of idiotic statements. There's been a steady stream from the likes of Digvijay Singh and Kiran Bedi, but as someone who only writes occasionally, I can't even try to keep up with them. I did offer my two bits about NRN's statements about IIT-ians, and am now writing again about something that I care a lot about, and which hopefully will NOT become an endless debate.

PT Usha made some stupid statements about F1 which received a lot of attention from the media, probably because they were consistent with the sentiment or ignorant perception held by a lot of people. In a poll run by Times of India yesterday, 61% idiotic/ignorant/communist people 'agreed with PT Usha that hosting F1 in India is a waste of money'.

The first counter-point I'd like to make is that no tax-payers' money is being spent here. In fact, the govt is earning a lot as they've not recognized this as a sporting event and offered no tax relief whatsoever. People have a right to approve/disapprove, and judge whether money is wisely spent or wasted, when tax-payers' money is involved as it was with the CWG, but F1 is private enterprise (and generally profitable). Why should private investors be denied a business opportunity if they consider it worthwhile? I haven't heard anyone complain about SRK spending Rs 175 Cr making Ra.One. So why the double standards?

The next argument is that we're an under-developed country and we don't need high-profile/hi-tech events like this. This reflects sheer ignorance of economics and the capitalist system. High-profile events like this generally involve construction of infrastructure, investment of capital, creation of jobs, a significant boost to tourism, and generally enhance the 'image' of the hosts if executed well. That is why other developing countries like China and South Africa want to host events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. And in this case, the ordinary citizen is getting the benefits - whatever little they may be - at zero cost!

Another argument being offered is that F1 lacks mass appeal. So? Do people watch every game of hockey played by our national team? PT Usha says 99% Indians don't care about F1. I am sure there are more F1 fans in India than there are fans of athletics or archery or pretty much any sport other than cricket, tennis or football. Does that mean we should shut down all the other sports federations and cancel all other events?

The point is - any sporting event, or movie or TV channel or author or any product for that matter - does not need to be relevant or interesting for everyone. It just has to have enough 'consumers' to justify its existence and hopefully turn in a profit, without breaking any laws. F1 does that, and does it better than most other sports.

Another version of this argument is that F1 is an 'elitist' sport or a rich people's sport. Closer to the truth is that it is an intelligent, educated & patient people's sport. To really appreciate it, you need to understand the nuances and complexities of things such as pit-stop strategy, tire performance and 'balance' optimization for 1-flying-lap versus race-pace, and you need a lot of patience. If you 'get' it, it's very rewarding. It is not for everyone, but then you don't shut down your IITs or IIMs because 99% people can't get into them.

As for the 'rich people's sport' argument - yes, that's true if you want to own a team and host parties on your own yachts like Vijay Mallya. Otherwise, you just need to be able to afford a subscription to the 'Star Sports' TV channel. FYI - Vijay Mallya spent as much or more money buying RCB than he did on buying Force India. Also, monthly subscriptions to most cricket channels cost more than Star Sports. Yet I don't hear anyone calling cricket a rich man's sport.

PT Usha also cribbed about how corporates don't spend much on other sports. Why would they, unless there was something in it for them? Corporates don't spend on sports out of the goodness of their hearts - nor should they or will they. They do it because they expect returns on their investments (ROI). They can actually expect a positive ROI on their spends in F1 - in terms of brand image and prestige, if not actual profits. In most other sports in India, the money would sink without a trace. In fact, much of it would probably end up in the pockets of some corrupt officials.

Some people - including PT Usha - don't consider F1 a sport at all. They obviously don't understand either what sport is, or what F1 is, or both. You can look at any definition of sport - the common elements in narrow definitions are physical activity, fitness, competition and entertainment - and F1 meets all of these criteria. (In wider definitions, some aspects such as physical activity can be left out to include things such as board games, but you don't even need that for motorsport)

I think such statements typically come from people who think F1 is just like driving your car and not a physical activity requiring fitness. In actual fact, F1 - any motorsport for that matter- requires the drivers to be extremely fit, have great stamina, really quick reflexes and a great degree of skill & concentration. Physically & mentally, an F1 race is more demanding than almost any other form of sportRead this for details.

Finally, it is all about entertainment. If someone can run a hundred meters or a mile faster than anyone else - it has no practical value to anyone. Professional sports exist because of the patrons - the ordinary people who enjoy watching sportsmen achieve records and win contests - are willing to pay for the experience. F1 delivers that. People like Usha should sportingly acknowledge that and try to improve their offerings rather than whining about corporate funds going to T20 and F1. And if they don't get it at all, they should just shut up, or be ignored if they don't.

Oct 21, 2011

Dumba Metro

For the past few days, there's been a lot of hype in the media about Bangalore's new 'Namma Metro'. It's been covered on national TV, and the local newspapers have gone ballitsic. TOI carried a 32-page special supplement yesterday, and had another 10 pages of reports and related ads in the main newspaper and Bangalore Times. These included interviews with people who had used the NY Subway and London Tube systems while they lived in those cities, and they talked about how they didn't need to own cars to move around in those cities, and seemed to believe that Namma Metro will do the same here. In fact, there was also a lot of ink devoted to the hi-tech features of the Metro, including Wi-fi connectivity etc., some of which are going to be first-ever-in-the-world, and make Namma Metro 'the best'.

The people behind all this PR - in the govt, media and the metro management - desperately need a primer in something that most of us learn within the first couple of months on any job - expectation management. I don't believe the Namma Metro is going to make too much of a difference (and I'll explain why) in the near future, and I think people are being misled into believing otherwise. They are going to feel let down very soon.

The reason people don't need to own vehicles in cities like London and New York is that there are massive public transport systems that include rail, bus and taxi services. No matter where you are in those cities, you just need to walk a short distance to access some public transport. If you're 'downtown' or in any area with a lot of commercial activity, you're usually within walking distance (under 10 min) of a train station - and trains are significantly faster than all other modes of public transport. This is made possible by a very large network with lots of stations and lines that cross at multiple points.

Now let us look at some numbers

'Journeys' above is the total number of unique combinations of any two stations on the network. So, each combination represents two places in the city you can travel between, using the metro (in either direction). It's not an exact measure, but a good approximation for the 'extensive-ness' of the network in question.

Clearly, this is roughly proportional to the square of the number of stations, which in turn is proportional to the total km track length. Namma Metro - even after the completion of Phase 2 (for which no deadline is set yet, but it wont be before 2015, given that Phase 1 itself doesn't get completed till 2013) - will only be about one-fourth as 'extensive' as the Delhi Metro is today, and nowhere near as extensive as the London Tube or NY Subway are today, OR what the Delhi Metro and Singapore's MRT will be by 2020.

In terms of population and area, while Bangalore is not as large as Delhi or NY, it is not a tiny fraction either, and it is comparable with Singapore and London. For the city's size, the size of the Namma Metro network is a joke. It will be at least a decade before it causes a significant reduction in traffic across the city, probably longer.

Another important aspect is the actual route map. Below I present my simplified version.

The black lines and blue points represent the actual route map, as planned.
The parts in gray are proposed and are not going to happen for a while.

The places marked in red are where most of the IT-industry employees reside, work, and basically live their whole lives. All these places lie in the south-east quadrant of the city, and most of the new, huge residential apartment complexes being constructed are also concentrated here (or around the Hebbal-BIAL stretch). For all these people (this probably includes you if you live in Bangalore and are reading this blog), Namma Metro might as well not exist, because it offers no connectivity within the south-eastern quadrant of the city and only runs along its periphery.

The reasons for this are obvious. The population that lives in the south-east quadrant is transient - many of them belong to other parts of the country and are in Bangalore only for a few years - to work. A lot of these people also tend to move overseas for long periods. They are notoriously poor voters - many not registered, and even among those registered - the turnout in elections is low and voting patterns unpredictable. Also, many of them would prefer private or company vehicles over 'public transport'. Hence, the powers that be simply ignore them when making plans. That's what's happened here.

So cut all the hype and hoopla, and prepare for more arguments with annoying auto-wallas for the next 10 years at least.

PS: New 'comments/reactions' section below! Please use :)

Oct 8, 2011

Response to NRN's comments about IITians

Receiving criticism isn't new at all to IITs and their alumni. Is it a coincidence that such criticism almost always comes from people who did not go to IITs themselves? I think not. Anyway, when someone as eminent as Mr. Narayana Murthy speaks on a subject like this, people pay attention. To be fair, he did raise a few valid points. However, most of what he said was BS, and it is simply unacceptable for someone who is considered a potential future President of India to make such strong statements in public forums without thinking everything through.

Let's step back and examine some facts.

In the 60s and 70s - the time he talks about - the IIT JEE was taken by less than 50,000 students, for less than 2,000 seats in 5 IITs. 
The complexity of questions asked in exam was very high. 
English was one of the subjects candidates were tested on. 
There were virtually no quotas or reservations. 

In reality, this meant that you only had a shot at getting through if you'd been schooled in a good, private, English-medium school. Which in turn meant that you had to come from a family of some means, and probably from one of the bigger cities.

In other words, the IITs in that period were as elitist as they could be. Most of the students went on to join the Civil Services, or moved to the US and never came back. They did well for themselves, and went on to build a strong 'brand IIT' in places like the silicon valley. But for the govt of India - which had provided these people a good, subsidized education - the ROI was questionable.

This led to the policy shifts witnessed from the early 90s onward. The govt created some new IITs and upgraded some other existing colleges to IIT status. The intake was also increased at each institute. English was discontinued as a test subject at the JEE. Quotas were introduced for SC/ST candidates etc. The result is that the IITs now take in around 10,000 students each year, and the admission criteria are not the same as they used to be.

Now, you don't need to be a genius to realize that there will be some drop in quality when you admit the 'top 10,000' rather than the 'top 2,000'. With the revised exam pattern and admission criteria, you will also end up admitting more students from smaller towns and modest family backgrounds and they will not be as articulate or fluent in English as past generations used to be. This may not please Mr Murthy but the policy-makers have chosen to go this way, and they have good reasons for doing so.

India's priority is not to have one or two institutes that can compete with MIT on quality & prestige, but to have enough institutes to satisfy the demand for quality graduates in our growing economy. To facilitate 'inclusive growth', an IIT education has to be made more accessible to kids across different social strata and from all regions. People who resent this and complain about 'dilution of brand IIT' and 'drop in quality' are being unforgivably elitist. Mr. Murthy is one such person. If he didn't like the policies or their consequences, he should have taken it up with the appropriate authorities. Instead he made harsh, sweeping statements that could demoralize young IIT students. The kids who have worked hard to get into IITs and are doing their best to secure their future in a competitive economy certainly deserve better.

Next, let's consider the coaching institutes. These are being blamed for the drop in quality of students joining IITs. I don't really understand this argument. Is it being suggested that the candidates being admitted to IITs don't really deserve to be there, and are there only because of coaching, at the cost of other, more deserving candidates? Whoever says this - please provide some evidence to back it up. I'd like to remind such people that the JEE is one of the toughest exams to clear in the whole world. This is followed by a rigorous 4-year B.Tech. course which includes a relentless series of & exams that are equally difficult to pass. If you want to disregard the achievements of people who survive all this, and give all the credit to the coaching institutes, your arguments for doing so need to be really solid. So far, nobody's offered any.

More to the point, coaching institutes help candidates prepare for an exam. What is wrong with that? If public schools were functioning well all over the country, these institutes wouldn't be required. But as things stand today, a candidate from Bhiwadi, Bhusawal or Bihar has little hope of getting into an IIT without the help of coaching institutes. They fill the gap that the govt has created through its poor performance in providing good school education to all, and level the playing field to an extent - which I consider a good thing. Of course, the increasing presence of kids from Bhiwadi, Bhusawal and Bihar does bother some elitists.

Murthy also said that 'Coaching classes teach aspirants limited sets of problems, out of which a few are asked in the examinations.' Again, I fail to understand what is wrong with this. The JEE coaching classes are supposed to prepare you for an exam, not teach you salsa dancing or how to appreciate Mozart. If they are thorough, rigorous and focused, why is it a bad thing? In any case, students take these classes for a year or two. This is preceded by 12+ years of school, and in case of successful JEE candidates, is followed by at least 4 years at IIT in a full-time residential program. If the students lack the ability to think creatively, communicate effectively - or whatever Mr. Murthy wants - at the end of all these years of education, the blame should lie partly with schools and mostly with IITs, and it is wrong to place all of it on the coaching institutes.

It is also sad and pathetic that he chose to criticize the IIT students and the coaching institutes who are merely participants in a system they did not create and do not control. What about the IITs themselves - the institutes where these students spend so many years after JEE, and where the buck should stop when it comes to the quality of admissions as well as end-output. Shouldn't they be held responsible, especially with their huge reputation? What about the government that takes major policy decisions that affect 'brand IIT' and 'quality' more than anything else? What about the Industry that contributes virtually nothing to the processes of education and research, unlike in countries like the US that he is using as a benchmark. Does Mr Murthy not realize any of this, or does he not have the courage to go after people or bodies that might hurt his future presidency hopes?

Another theme we hear frequently is the lack of 'research' at IITs. Mr. Murthy points out that the IITs produce few PhDs compared to the US universities and even China. I feel it's a case of putting the cart before the horse. Engineers don't go for PhDs in India as there is simply no incentive. Even the few who do, complain about the absolute lack of suitable jobs. I have batch-mates from IIT who went to the US for further studies and are really keen to return to India but they simply can't find any good jobs here. The reason for this isn't hard to find. Engineers with PhDs are needed for advanced R&D, which in turn is driven by the (manufacturing) industry. USA is the most developed industrial nation in the world. China is becoming a global manufacturing hub. India still hasn't witnessed an industrial revolution, and some suspect we might never see one! We might just skip from agriculture to a service economy and rely on imports of manufactured goods from the likes of China.

This aside, the fact is that not many Indian companies invest significantly in R&D. We don't yet have a culture of entrepreneurship or innovation that could be compared to the US. Till this happens, there were be no demand for people with advanced degrees, and consequently no supply. The industry and the govt need to turn this situation around before they start complaining about lack of research or PhDs at IITs. As it is, we have millions of people with college and post-graduates degrees doing jobs that are done very well by diploma holders in other countries.

In this context, one has to question if producing more advanced degree holders - particularly PhDs in engineering - is even required by India today. Even if it is, where does it lie on our priority list? In a country where we are not even close to universal literacy, quality of public schools is appalling, and there aren't too many decent post-graduate jobs, the answer is obvious. All this talk about R&D and PhDs is reminiscent of Nehru and his 'temples of modern India' - symbolic but useless. I hope we learn from history.

I could say a lot about Mr Murthy himself. How about looking at the profile of new hires at Infosys, evaluating their 'quality', and how it has evolved over the years. If he's not happy with the quality of IIT engineers at Infosys, perhaps he should look at the farcical hiring process Infosys follows there, rather than JEE. How many PhDs does Infosys hire, where are they hired from and what are they paid? How many research projects does Infosys fund and where? Perhaps Mr Murthy should think about what he and his company are doing to improve the situation, rather than being critical of smart, hard-working 17-year-olds or the people helping them get into good colleges.

Sep 12, 2011

Secularism, Politics and Hindutva...

In a couple of my earlier posts, I have mentioned my appreciation for Dr Subramanian Swamy & Janata Party - their agenda, and some of the good work they've done. Not surprisingly, some people found this outrageous, since Swamy - like the BJP - is considered 'communalist' and therefore unacceptable to the majority of the Indian intelligentsia.

I consider this very unfortunate, because the so-called 'secular' argument against Swamy & the BJP is quite hollow - as I will try to demonstrate in this post. Yet it has somehow been very effective in alienating the likes of Swamy from the educated middle-class which - ironically - should really be his support base, considering the fit between his politico-economic agenda & approach, and their own needs & values.

Meanwhile, their political opponents continue to successfully indulge in and benefit from divisive vote-bank politics by appeasing every imaginable minority as defined by caste, religion, language or ethnicity! Somehow this does not seem to offend the sensibilities of Indian intelligentsia and I struggle to understand why. Is this hypocrisy, or moral posturing, or just a case of being brainwashed by propaganda? I suspect it is a combination of the last two.

Anyway, to set the record straight, we have to examine the subject in a very detailed and dispassionate manner. While I am not really qualified to do so, I shall attempt this to the best of my ability, and welcome constructive feedback & debate.

1. Understanding the Basic Concept of Secularism.

Before the beginning of the modern industrial age, science wasn't developed enough to offer explanations for the majority of phenomena people observed and experienced in their lives. Since human beings are most uncomfortable with uncertainty, they turned to religion for answers. Of course, these answers were generally baseless and had to be taken on faith - to be accepted as the 'word of god' as interpreted by the clergy. This worked while there was no alternative, and perhaps no desire to look for one.

But things changed with the advent of the modern age. Humanity began to develop a scientific temper through the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment, culminating in the Industrial Revolution. The scientific method is based on facts and logical reasoning - empirical or experimental evidence. It does not accept anything on faith alone.

Secularism was essentially the extension of this idea to government. The scientific mind wanted to be governed based on laws and policies based on facts and logic - that made sense and seemed fair, and were based exclusively on considerations of this life. The very existence of God, the soul or the afterlife is at best unproven, and cannot be the basis or motive for any action. Therefore, secularism meant the rule of law rather than superstition, and a government acting on reason & principles, rather than religious beliefs.

This does not mean religion had no place in the modern world. The 'separation' simply meant that religion could not be a basis for government action, and conversely, the people would be free to practice their religions and the government would not discriminate on religious basis.

2. Pseudo-Secularism in current Indian Politics

Now, if you critically examine the 'secularism' issue in Indian politics today - you would realize that it doesn't quite relate with the concept of 'secularism' defined above. No major political party in India - including the BJP and Swamy's Janata Party - has ever governed in a manner based predominantly on religious beliefs or even expressed a desire to. All popular parties respect the constitution and no one important has called for the existing body of laws to be replaced by the Sharia or any Hindu equivalent. There have been multiple BJP governments at the center and in several states, and all of them have followed proper social and economic agendas, and operated within secular, democratic principles.

True, they have a strong Hindu skew and are dominated by people who have strong religious beliefs - but  'secularism' does not deny them the freedom to hold personal beliefs, as long as their actions in government are not based on these and defy law or logic. If you look at secular countries across the world - you will find that their heads of state invariably belong to the majority community, and leaders having strong religious values (typically being devout Christians/Catholics) is generally considered a good thing. In India, however, the opposite seems to be true. Politicians with Hindu leanings are viewed with suspicion, and we've had more government  heads (CMs, PMs and Presidents) from minority communities than even the most liberal, secular countries - in spite of our much shorter history of democracy.

Parties such as the BJP & JP favor a uniform civil code - meaning the same set of laws applies to all citizens irrespective of which region or religion they belong to. Note that this is actually congruent with the concept of secularism. On the other hand, politicians & parties who shamelessly appease the minorities - as Rajiv Gandhi did in the Shah Bano case - and allow religious considerations to enter the political realm, are also the ones who claim to be 'secular'! This appeasement of minorities under the garb of secularism is precisely what the term 'pseudo-secular' refers to.

3. Putting Ayodhya and Godhra in Perspective

Some will cite the examples of Ayodhya and Godhra to discredit the secular credentials of the BJP. While I do not claim the BJP was entirely without blame in these cases, I'd like to point out two things.

First, these are not the only cases of communal violence or riots in India. After the Babri demolition, riots broke out across the country and even other parties in power at the center and in various states did little to stop it. There were similar riots everywhere after the '93 Mumbai blasts, as there have been on other occasions in the past as well. When large numbers of people start rioting, it becomes tougher for the government to control and usually there is a lack of intent as well - because governments don't like to get in the way of the masses when tempers are flared. They never act against the public sentiment as this would hurt them in the next elections, regardless of how 'wrong' the sentiment may be.
All political parties in India are guilty of this behavior - prime case in point being the Congress in 1984. This, while unfortunate, is the harsh reality of populist politics in a democracy like ours. Why, then, are only BJP governments blamed for two instances of communal riots, and the general public and all other parties absolved of the blame for these and similar riots elsewhere? I believe there are two main reasons for these double standards - one, of course, is pseudo-secularism. The other is the media coverage. Riots before these were not reported nearly as extensively or dramatically by the limited, state-controlled media that existed then. In fact they were often brushed under the carpet.

Secondly, and more importantly, in both cases that the BJP is blamed, it should be noted that the violence was not govt vs people, but community vs community among the people. Prior to this, Congress governments presided over the Hashimpura Massacre and Operation Blue Star. These were not cases of government being passive observers while people fought, but pro-active government action lacking any popular support, that cannot be described as secular by any stretch of the imagination. Ironically, it was 'raving communalist' Dr Swamy who undertook a fast unto death demanding a probe into the genocide at Hashimpura. Yet, the Congress and others claim to be champions of 'secularism' and the BJP & Dr Swamy  allegedly represent a threat. How can anyone buy this propaganda?

4. Understanding Hindutva & Why It Can't be a Threat

The opponents of the BJP, Dr Swamy etc. claim that their Hindutva philosophy is a threat to the 'secular fabric of India', specifically to religious minority groups. This is bunkum.

The first thing we need to recognize is that Hindusim or Hindutva isn't even a 'religion' in the strict sense. Most religions are characterized by one god (Jesus, Allah, Buddha...), one or a few holy texts (the Bible, the Qor'an, Torah...), and an organized, hierarchical body such as the Roman Catholic Church with a leader such as the Pope. Most of these religions require followers to accept one god and reject all others. They have concepts of sins and/or heresy, and people who don't belong to the religion are sinners/heretics by default and have to be confronted and either converted or fought - the required level of commitment to the cause varies, but some such elements are always there.

Hinduism does not have any of the above characteristics. It grants a great degree of freedom of belief and worship, and the concept of heresy is absent. It is also extremely flexible and tolerant, and accepts that there are many paths to god. Academically, it is not even classified as a religion but has been described as 'a set of philosophies', 'a religious tradition' and so on.

In a judgment the Supreme Court of India ruled that "no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindu', 'Hindutva' and 'Hinduism'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage."
The Court also ruled that "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind."

Thus, Hinduism is essentially benign, peace-loving and inward-looking. Our history is devoid of aggressive events and concepts like Inquisitions, CrusadesJihad or evangelism. We've always been at the receiving end of invasions and conquests, and never fought too hard to resist those either. Even our freedom struggle against British rule was uniquely non-violent! Since independence, we've been called a 'soft state', we've favored 'status quo' when it comes to territory, and we've had the infamous 'Hindu rate of growth.' So, to the very idea of a Hindu threat of any sort to anything is laughable, and nothing more than a political chimera.

Of course, there are a few elements like the Bajrang Dal whose philosophy and actions are actually disruptive, regressive and dangerous. But equating Dr. Swamy and all BJP leaders with these elements is as fallacious as labeling every devout Muslim a jihadi or a terrorist. Within every community - including religious groups - there will always be some voices of reason, which will typically come from the better educated and progressive thinkers, and a few voices of extremism and fanaticism, which will typically belong to those who feel frustrated or wronged and don't think rationally. People will always have the choice to join, support & strengthen either of these sides. The big mistake a lot of the Indian educated/elite seem to be making is not recognizing the fact that there are two different sides to Hindutva as well, and we all have a role to play in determining which one becomes stronger in the future.

5. Divided We Fall...
Let us pause here and examine the Indian nation-state. In theory, the 'state' is a political and geopolitical entity; the 'nation' is a cultural and/or ethnic entity. The term nation-state implies that the two coincide, but how true is this of India?

We certainly have a 'state', which in terms of the width of its sphere of influence is almost as strong as communist regimes, which aren't too many in number today. As a nation, however, India is weak. A 'nation' is a group of people who typically share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, and more importantly - identity, principles & aspirations. This is what enables a nation to work towards the 'common good', and in unison against any external threats. In India, though, we don't have a common language or culture or ethnicity. When it comes to identities, we divide ourselves on many bases - primarily region (including language), religion and caste. A lot of these sub-identities are actually stronger than the common national identity - which is why we've had secessionist movements in Kashmir, Punjab, parts of the north-east and Tamil Nadu among other regions, and we keep getting divided into more and more states.

What is the result of this? We spend more of our energy working against each other and quarreling over petty differences, than moving forward together as a nation. Look at our political landscape. Most democracies have 2-3 major parties which are divided mainly on ideological lines - liberal vs conservative, pro-labor/left-wing vs right-wing, socialist vs pro-market, and people vote for an agenda. In India, we have a large number of parties that represent narrow regional or caste sub-identities rather than a proper socio-economic agenda. As a result, core governance, policy-making and reform processes (legal, admin, economic...) take a back-seat. A Laloo Yadav is able to kill growth & development in Bihar for nearly two decades, as he commands the loyalty of the Muslim-Yadav vote-bank.

We are fed the beautiful concepts of 'mixed economy' and 'unity in diversity' in school, but on objective examination one finds that the 'mixed economy' is a failed, bastard concept. And 'unity in diversity' is an even bigger myth. I can honestly say that as a north-Indian living in the south, particularly TN, I have experienced  more hostility than I have when I've traveled overseas. I grew up in an army environment - surrounded by men from all communities who literally put their lives on the line for 'India', living in cantonments in various cities across India which had a fairly uniform feel to them. So, I actually believed in the 'unity in diversity' concept and took pride in it too.

However, upon leaving that environment and living as a civilian, I witnessed an altogether different reality which left me somewhat disillusioned. Even at IIT - where we supposedly had the best young minds in the country, and were insulated from any external, political influence - I saw a lot of hostel elections being decided by regionalism. A 'gult' would tend to vote for a 'gult', and all 'northies' for 'northies' - often regardless of the candidates' credentials or manifestos. That is how deeply and fundamentally we are divided.

These divisions are not benign or just political noise either. They hold back socio-economic development, bring the wrong people into power, which in turn messes up the civil services. We all complain about how the IAS, the police etc. are so corrupt. When they report to the kind of politicians we have, and their own career growth & personal welfare depends on gaining favor with these politicians than actual performance, what else could even happen? Poor governance & administration leads to frustration among the masses - which fuels all the secessionist movements, naxalism and all kinds of fundamentalism and religious fanaticism - which are all serious threats to the unity and future of India.

6. Hindutva as a Unifying Force

It is interesting to note that there is a separate page for Communalism in the South Asian context. The introduction reads 'This article deals with the use of the word communalism in South Asia, as a name for a force separating different communities based on some form of social or sectarian discrimination. See the article communalism for the use of the word to denote a force uniting people into a community as well as a libertarian socialist political ideology, as it is used in other parts of the world where English is a major language.'

As I stated earlier, there are two versions of Hindutva. One is in line with our unique separatist concept of Communalism, and this is the one that draws most of the attention for the wrong reasons.

The other is the one described by the Supreme Court of India and what some political entities stand for. This version describes Hindutva as a cultural and civilizational concept that unites all the people of India. The term Hinduism derives from a Persian word that refers to the Sindhu (or Indus) river in northwest India; it was first used in the 14th century by Arabs, Persians, and Afghans to describe the peoples of the region. These usages show that the word Hindu, until the early nineteenth century was emphasized by nativity rather than by religion.

Since it is not really a religion, it does not exclude Muslims, Sikhs, Christian or any other communities. It emphasizes our common traditions, cultural elements and history, and is an inclusive concept that aims to assimilate all sub-groups into one Indian nation, rather than divide on any of several possible basis. I cannot think of a better basis for developing a strong concept of Indian nationalism - something that we desperately need to grow as a society and en economy and realize our potential as a people.

Of course, this would require the educated, 'elite' sections of society and the intelligentsia to participate. I don't see why this version - if properly understood and propagated by the right people - could do any harm to the secular fabric of India. It is only when capable intellectuals fail to provide proper thought leadership, that unqualified fundamentalists rise to fill the void.

So, in stead of developing an intellectual allergy to the concept of Hindutva, or getting swayed by the pseudo-secular rhetoric of most political parties and much of the media, perhaps you should try to think about it in a constructive sense.

Aug 25, 2011

The real Thalaivar Anna stands up...

Wed, Aug 24, Special correspondents all over the place: South Indian, Indian, Global, Universal Superstar Rajinikanth had yesterday offered his support for Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill. As is usually the case with Rajini, the move had far-reaching repercussions that we summarize in this special report today.

Public reaction

Masses supporting the Jan Lokpal Bill erupted in celebration, knowing that the force was now with them, and there is no way the Jan Lokpal Bill could possibly be stopped now. People of all ages were seen dancing in the streets all over the country, to the tunes of "En Peru Padayappa", which is now the official theme of the anti-corruption movement. Responding to Thalaivar's call, the masses in Chennai also took to the streets, causing a 25-km-long traffic jam all the way from the Anna International Terminal  to the Anna Arch in Anna Nagar, via Anna Salai. The symbolism was not lost on anyone.

It is expected that the focus of the movement will shift to Chennai over the next few days. This might discourage a few people who are traveling from far and wide to join the protest. Harkishan Singh from Karnal said, 'I'd like to fast with Anna, but Chennai is too far and too bloody hot. Besides, if I travel there, I'd want to be eating a lot of idli-dosa and sambhar, not fasting'. However, people aren't really worried about the movement losing steam. After all, they now have Rajini.

Govt response

PM Manmohan Singh and his senior cabinet ministers held an 'urgent meeting' of the 'special working committee' formed to 'diffuse an extraordinary situation, while maintaining the sanctity of parliament's sovereignty'. (While some thought the verbosity was a bit over the top, others explained it was a Congress tradition.)

Kapil Sibal spoke to the press afterwards. 'The govt is not worried', he asserted, 'since there is no problem. I explained several months back that the 2G scam didn't really happen. The govt didn't lose any money. My friend Digvijay Singh also told everybody later that Kalmadi and Chavan had to be innocent as it was his opinion. So, you see, there really isn't a corruption problem. Without a problem, there can be no protest. Without a protest, we have nothing to worry about'. He signed off with his typical glib guffaw.

This didn't surprise the reporters present too much, since Sibal has been giving the appearance of a man living in a totally different reality for a while now. Some reporters were, however, heard inquiring if anyone knew what Sibal was smoking these days, and where or how they might be able to get their hands on some of that shit.

When asked what the PM felt about the situation, Sibal said, 'Oh yes, that ol fart. He was mumbling something in one corner, but you know - who listens to him anyway?! We advised the PM not to get involved in this situation, so that he can later deny any knowledge of what happened and escape all responsibility. That way, the party can stick to our stand that PM Manmohan Singh is a man of integrity, not a dirty politician'. More glib guffawing.

A lot of Congress workers were looking where they always look for direction - towards Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Congress leader Ajit Jogi made yet another attempt at reviving his stuttering political career by calling for Rahul Gandhi to become the head of the Lokpal organization. 'I've been calling for Rahul-ji to take over the PM's post for a while now. However, seeing as how the PM will probably be under the Lokpal in future, I now feel Rahul Gandhi should take charge of the Lokpal as and when it materializes'.

Sources, however, have informed us that Sonia and Rahul may not be returning to India at all. With Rajini on the opposite side, they don't see the point of continuing in politics. And since neither of them has a college degree, they see no future for themselves in a country where even restaurant waiters and auto-rickshaw drivers these days have at least a Masters Degree obtained through a correspondence course. There are rumors that one of them - probably Rahul - may be appearing on a Donald Trump show in the USA, or the next season of Bigg Boss in India.

Other parties' response

The BJP has not so far said anything of significance - just the usual rhetoric about how the current government is incompetent and should never have been voted to power, back in 2004. Sources inform us that they are trying really hard to get Rajinikanth to join them join Rajinikanth. All their slogans, brochures and campaign materials are being re-worked to talk about Rajini-raj instead of their historical slogan of Ram-rajya.

A Left Front spokesperson informed us that the Politburo was busy studying communist literature for guidance about dealing with the current situation. They're sure 'Marx himself' and 'Lenin himself' must have said something relevant - since they knew it all and knew better than everyone else, but they've not had much luck finding anything useful thus far. In the meantime, they're opposing everyone and everything.

Mamata Bannerjee has decided to abstain when the Bill comes up for discussion. She believes some parties such as the BJP will be voting for the Bill, and she can't be on the same side. The Left will probably be voting against the Bill - and she can't be on their side either. When asked what her own view was, she rambled incoherently and loudly for a few minutes. The reporter thought he heard the word 'Bongol' 27 times in those few minutes, but couldn't understand what she meant. We tried to reach out to other leaders of the Trinamool Congress to clarify the party's stand, but soon realized that no one matches that description.

The BSP seems fine with any version of the Lokpal, as long as at least 49% of the new Lokpal jobs created are reserved for SC/ST and OBCs.

Bad news for the Indian Cricket Team

It was being heard in some corridors that the BCCI was working on plans to have Rajini join the Indian Cricket Team to salvage some pride on the current tour of England the Indian Cricket Team take the field along with Rajini and watch him annihilate all those English (some of them, anyway) Rascallas. Rajini was expected to restore India's No 1 Test ranking through his performances in the ODI series. Rajini was also being tipped to score Sachin's 100th ton in the upcoming T20 fixture on Aug 31st.

However, Rajini is not a 100% fit, having had a kidney operation in Singapore recently. With all the criticism the BCCI has received for rushing half-fit Zaheer and Sehwag back into action with disastrous results, and with Bhajji, Ishant and Gambhir also getting injured - BCCI did not want to take any chances with Rajini's fitness. There are also rumors that Munaf is injured - in spite of not playing any matches on the current tour - but the team is hiding his injury to avoid further embarrassment. In the last practice session, Munaf was seen just strolling around looking lost and uninterested and missing all catches and ground strokes that came his way. The team physio when asked about this dismissed suggestions that it had anything to do with an injury. 'That is all Munaf ever does anyway.'

There have been suggestions that Rajini might play cricket several times in the recent past, but with India being no 1 in Tests and winning ODI World Cup - and Chennai Super Kings also winning pretty much every tournament they play - there has been no need. In the current situation, Rajini might be needed to save India when they travel to Australia later this year requested to crush those rude Aussie Rascallas later this year. When asked, chairman of selectors Kris Srikkanth told this reporter, 'Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain!' He then broke into an animated diatribe about 'gorrubtion' or something, but the reporter could not make out if he was speaking in English or Tamil, or what he was saying. After getting about half a liter of saliva on his face, he gave up and left.

There have also been rumors of Rajini competing in the inaugural Indian F1 Grand Prix later this year, but the superstar has denied this, saying the cars are too slow to compete with him.

International Reaction

With Rajini taking an active interest in politics north of Chennai, a lot of significant international activity was witnessed. Pakistani troops began withdrawing from the LoC and other border areas. The Chinese also started withdrawing from Kashmir, Arunachal and other areas - including Tibet - though they were asking for a few free DVDs of past Rajini hits in return.

The Af-Pak conflict has also been resolved. A Taliban spokesperson, wearing the look of a defeated man, told this reporter that 'We were basically just scared shit-less. We've never carried out a terror strike in Chennai, even though it is the most accessible Indian metro for us - we could just send people from the Gulf to Kerala, and they wouldn't be noticed amidst all the human traffic on that route. But we didn't want to provoke Rajini. We thought we were secure in other places due to the language barrier, but alas - that is no longer the case. Our activities are based on misrepresenting the word of God to gullible young men, and asking them to go kill the infidels. But this model doesn't work when they start hearing from Rajini directly. If we try telling them that Rajini is also an infidel, they just get disillusioned with the whole thing and leave.'

US troops shall be returning home soon, and having learnt about Rajinikanth and Hindu-ism, it is expected that Diwali will supplant Christmas as the biggest American festival this year.

The riots in England and other European cities have also ended. The miscreants realize Rajini may be watching and have decided to 'mind it their behavior', for their own good.

Greece and Portugal have requested Rajini to help them sort out their economy and finances, but the superstar has not yet responded.

Butterfly Effect for Businesses

Over the past few years, most businesses had grudgingly accepted that the US population was getting older and they would have to adapt to survive and grow. A lot of 'strategic marketing consultant' types had been making a killing in the process. However, with so many US troops - mostly young men - returning from Af-Pak all of a sudden, all alive, and expected to start to making babies with a vengeance, all the strategic business plans for dealing with the demographic shift have been thrown out of whack. America has reason to cheer, though. Sources tell us that President Barack Obama has requested Rajini for a meeting where he would be seeking Rajini's advice on the economy and several other matters. While this has not been confirmed, reliable sources tell us Rajini might agree to a 30-minute meeting with Obama in Chennai later this month.

(Legal-type Disclaimer - this post is just a very inspired work of fiction. While it is no co-incidence that the people and incidents mentioned resemble those in real-life, you would have to be out of your mind to take any of it seriously. I take absolutely NO responsibility for any idiot thinking any of this is real, or taking offense to any of it, or acting in any manner influenced by it - especially after I've put in this disclaimer!)

Aug 19, 2011

Response to comments on the Anna Hazare post

A lot of people have reacted to my last post where I presented my views on the Anna Hazare situation, and implored them to think twice about what they do. I have seen a few common themes among the negative responses that I shall address here.

1. 'Anna was denied the right of effective protest', 'How can govt dictate where and when he protests', 'The restrictions were unreasonable'...

Sorry to be rude - but stop parroting what you hear on TV and use your own heads. The restrictions were for one particular venue. 5,000 is a significant number. And no matter how retarded someone is - 3 days is enough to make them understand whatever point you're trying to make. If Anna had accepted these conditions, would his points have become less valid? Would people not support him, as they're doing now? Could protests not be held simultaneously at multiple other venues, with smaller crowds, as is happening now? Does this need to go on indefinitely for any good to happen? Going by what I've heard on TV, there hasn't actually been a gathering of more than 5,000 people in any single venue - yet the movement has been bigger and more effective than what Anna would've realistically expected. So why was that essential in the first place?

The Delhi Police says they'd suggested other venues where bigger crowds could be accommodated, but Anna & team wanted this venue - because of the symbolism of JP Narayan, and its proximity to the Parliament. Political reasons. Delhi Police told him how many people he could gather, and how long he could stay at that venue, based on logistical considerations - as they have the authority to. Their authority is a fact, who's orders they were acting on etc. is speculation, and doesn't change the fact anyway. While the rule of law exists, you cannot do what the police has told you not to do. You don't have the right to disregard the law. If you think the conditions are unreasonable - go to court. Better still, if your intentions are genuine, just try and find workarounds.

Moreover, this 'right to protest' also has to have reasonable limits. Anna protested earlier, got the govt to a discussion table, made his suggestions about the Lokpal etc. The govt. took his inputs, and went ahead with a Bill they felt was right. The proper process has been followed, and the govt. is now acting within its rights. Anna is free to say what he likes and doesn't like, talk to political parties, contest elections... but he cannot go on a fast-unto-death, call on the masses to court arrest, talk about a second freedom struggle and coerce the govt. to do what he wants if he disagrees. Right now he's protesting the govt's decision to not present his version of the Bill in Parliament. Even if it is presented, in pretty much every conceivable scenario, it will be rejected by Parliament. Who is to say he will not resort to the same tactics then? In fact, if he really believes in his version, and refuses to accept the govt's decision not to present it - he will have to resort to the same tactics when Parliament rejects it. Otherwise, the whole drama will all have been pointless and hypocritical.

It's not about whether people think what he wants is right or wrong - he must act within the constitutional, democratic framework. Protest cannot be allowed to impinge on the rights of the govt and the parliament

2. 'Why should Anna obey the law', 'People of India support him, not the govt', 'We can make an exception given the circumstances', 'Quoting constitution is for politicians, not citizens' ...

This set of questions genuinely worry me, and the reason I'm taking a stand is that I feel people are ready to cross lines that must never be crossed. In India we have the 'rule of law' - which' is the most basic feature of a democratic, free country. Not the rule of kings, or dictators, or an army, or a religious body... but the rule of law. It took a lot of effort for our forefathers to get us here, and no matter how cynical one may feel - our system of democracy and constitution are regarded as one of the very best in the world. Look at our neighbors. Most would rather be in the situation we are in, than their own. Our parliamentary democracy, and our constitution - things that people are speaking of so lightly now - are the firm foundations of India as a free country where an Anna Hazare can even attempt what he's doing.

We can't lose perspective and throw all this away over Anna & a Jan Lokpal Bill. The rule of law is a fundamental principle that cannot be compromised, no matter how much popular support there is for a cause. In this regard, we must be - and I choose the word deliberately, given the context - incorruptible.

Keep in mind - the only alternatives to the rule of law are slavery or anarchy. For a population of more than a billion, that is a scary thought. If you feel I'm over-reacting when I mention anarchy, please listen to Anna's first video message - where he asks children to skip school/college, working people to take a few days leave - and fill up jails to the point where they cant accommodate any more people. All this for Parliament to take up his draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill. This would be textbook anarchy.

3. 'Someone has to do something, and Anna is doing it... we must support it'

'Someone has to do something' is a valid notion, but not a sound reason. It does not absolve you of the responsibility of distinguishing right from wrong. It is irresponsible to say we all must support Anna just because he's doing something. You should only support him if you believe he's doing the right thing. Don't just follow the herd - you're human, not cattle.

Think about Germany in the 1930's. A country paying a heavy price for defeat in WW1. An economy where Jews - somewhere between 10-25% of the population, controlled somewhere between 75-90% of the economic resources. I don't remember the exact figures, but they were in the range I've quoted. German non-Jews were frustrated by unemployment, poor quality of life, bleak future etc. The 'someone needs to do something' sentiment produced Adolf Hitler. You know what happened then.

Never mind distant history. Consider the Kashmiri people today. The region has been strife-torn for decades now, and life for them is nothing like the 'free, many opportunities...' story most of our lives have. A lot of them are disillusioned and disaffected. 'Someone needs to do something' is a widespread feeling there. A lot of people talk about a 'freedom struggle'. Some of these carry out terror attacks. Do you think they're justified in doing so?

Before anyone goes ballistic, let me explicitly say 'I AM NOT EQUATING ANNA WITH TERRORISTS'. Anna uses non-violent methods. So let's say, tomorrow, a large group claiming 'popular support' (locally within Kashmir, if not nationally) wants to peacefully fast-unto-death in New Delhi demanding secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union. I'm not being anti-national here. My father is an Army Officer - decorated for his contribution in Kargil - and I've witnessed the Kashmir situation first-hand. So, the scenario I'm sharing here is very realistic. How will you deal with that situation? Why should the standards be different?

My point here is not to equate Anna with Hitler or Kashmiri terrorists - it is only to say - support something for good, 'right' reasons. 'Someone has to do something' is not one, and without further considerations, can boomerang spectacularly.

4. 'We need a strong Lokpal', 'Govt is trying to pass a Jokepal Bill, we must ensure Anna's version goes through'. 

Again - stop parroting whatever the media tells you. The Lokpal is NOT a magic pill. Anna's version is NOT perfect. Whether or not the PM or MPs should be included should be debated - but within the framework of a constitutional democracy - and either way - your life is NOT going to change too much. So, please stop making this a bigger deal than it really is.

These are just my opinions - I want a Lokpal, but I prefer the govt's version. The Judiciary should not be included. And if the Lokpal is to be effective, it's focus should be limited to Grade A officers. To create a body covering all govt employees from grades A to D - as Anna wants - is simply not practical. Nor is it even desirable - we do not want to create a whole 'parallel system', when the police, CBI etc. already exist. Lokpal will be much more effective as a small, high-impact, focused task force, rather than a large, parallel police organization. Also, remember that we - the taxpayers - have to finally bear the costs. I already hate paying to keep Air India afloat.

5. 'Why is only Anna being targeted',  some points about Rahul Gandhi in UP and sec 144, and various arguments against the govts actions, questions about the legitimacy of the govt itself, including 'they only had 28% vote share'...

Let's be clear - I'm not endorsing all of the government's actions. Honestly, I was shocked when this govt came to power - in spite of the NDA doing good jobs in Pokhran, Kargil and with the economy. I was even more dismayed when they got re-elected in spite of a Lame-Duck PM, Mumbai 26/11, inflation etc. Keep in mind - most of the scams etc. that are coming to light now had happened during UPA-1. I am no fan of this govt, or the Nehru-Gandhi-Sycophant Party. But whether or not I like the govt, they have a mandate to govern and they have some powers - at least while they hold the majority in Parliament - and we all, inc Anna, have to respect that.

True, our elections may not be 100% free and fair, but the result does generally represent what the people want. Nobody has ever said that the process was so messed up that the wrong govt had come to power, against people's wishes!

It is also fallacious and irrelevant to use the stat that only 28% people voted for Cong. This does not mean the remaining 72% are all opposed to anything and everything the govt does. Whether or not this 'first past the post' system of electing representatives is the best or not - is a whole, separate discussion. All that matters right now is this is the way we elect governments, and unless the laws change, everyone has to work within this system and respect it.

In any case, even if I disagree or dislike some of the govt's actions, that doesn't mean I have to support Anna Hazare. My support and opinions are based on principles, not the people involved. My education has taught me to take decisions rationally.
As I don't agree with some of Anna's ideas or his methods, I refuse to support him. Whether others have been allowed to use similar methods elsewhere - these are the kind of arguments used in what we all call 'dirty politics'. We - the educated responsible citizens of India - have to set a higher standard, and not stoop to the same level of politics that we're disgusted by. Two wrongs do not make a right. We only support something if we genuinely believe it is right, not because someone else has done worse.

6. 'Armchair idealism achieves nothing', 'You're writing from an AC room. You should be out on the street', 'People like us never do anything, that's why things are getting worse'...

Since I published my post yesterday, it has been visited by nearly 1,700 people across 270 cities in 31 countries- and more than 450 of them have shared it further on Facebook. Some have endorsed the ideas, some have countered them - 100s of discussion threads have started, and - hopefully - a few opinions influenced. I don't see how this can be dismissed as 'doing nothing'. I also don't see how I - as an individual - being out on the street, holding a candle or shouting slogans could possibly have achieved more. This is not to say that we don't need feet on the street when there is a worthy cause. But to say that is all we need is akin to saying armies only need foot soldiers, no commanders or generals, no intelligence agents, no supply corps, no medical corps... Being physically inconvenienced doesn't make your point more valid, and doesn't necessarily achieve better results - not for everybody, at least.

When there is a cause I believe in, I might take to the streets - if I really believe it will achieve something and is the best course of action. In this case, I DON'T support Anna's version of the bill or his methods - so the question of 'doing more' does not arise.

To say 'people like us do nothing' is also ignorant & irresponsible, especially if it starts getting used as a reason to justify wrongdoing. I quoted the example of Takhat Singh Ranawat in my original post. Another friend of mine from IIT,M - Supreet Gulati, an Elec engineer with good grades etc (anyone who has been to IIT will know a person with such qualifications can do anything he wants) - is also working with the government. My ex-manager, Sudarshan Gangrade, is also an engineer from IIT KGP and MBA from IIM,B. He quit his job to volunteer full-time with the UIDAI. This is 3 people just from my friends circles - who can do anything - and have chosen to be part of the system and do good work. So, please don't get carried away with one Anna Hazare and dismiss a whole generation, especially those with education and means as 'people doing nothing.'

Personally, I feel what these guys are doing is more meaningful than being an activist. Activists typically make noise about problems, rather than create solutions. Most of their rhetoric is protest against something, rather than working for something. When they do offer solutions, they aren't necessarily good ones, nor do these people own up all the responsibility - just like this Jan Lokpal case. Working within the system takes much more patience and courage - like forming a party, contesting elections, running a government with all its machinery and constraints. It's much easier to just proclaim 'the system doesn't work' and then do whatever you please - taking shortcuts and breaking rules - but it is not better for the country in the long run.

7. 'You lack clarity of thought', 'You are ignorant', 'You're just trying to be different'...

This section ONLY for those who, for reasons best known to them, decided to make this personal and/or presume they know or understand me.

First of all, I don't understand why this discussion should be about me at all. It's about the issues, and while you're free to agree or disagree and express your views about the issues/points, you have neither the right, nor the information - to pass judgment on me as an individual. But since you have, I will respond.

It's easy to pass judgment on someone, and write a smug, sarcastic comment. You don't need any basis, logic, arguments, reasons or vocabulary. It doesn't earn you any respect, though. If you care enough about what is being discussed, and have the ability to articulate your views on the subject, please do so. I'm ready for an open debate. Are you?

For those questioning my ability to think, knowledge of facts etc. etc. - let me tell you a bit about who I am. I grew up in an Army family. Not in Delhi or Mumbai - but small towns like Gurdaspur, Siliguri... and moved every two years with my dad. I saw people die for this country. I accepted the possibility that my father may one day be one of them. Then I received an education at IIT Madras, followed by IIM, Lucknow. I have an IQ of 140, and advise Fortune-100 companies on marketing issues based on complex data analytics and consumer insights. If you want to comment on me or my abilities, let's first hear your credentials.

For those who think I was just trying to be different and capture airtime - neither is true. I have mentioned the communities I belong to above, and I wear the badges with pride and responsibility. I think for myself, and express my views honestly, making my best attempts to justify them with facts and reason. I have no need or desire to just 'be different'. Also, my blog is usually read by only about 50 people - who are mostly from within my friends' circle. I did not expect this post to be any different. I just consolidated my views on my blog, because explaining the same ideas over and over in multiple facebook discussions was going to be tedious. I never planned or expected to get this much attention, and I certainly wasn't 'pretending' among my friends. The fact that so many people have shared the post - and so many of the readers agree - is proof of its substance. That's what you ought to focus on.