Sunday, October 16, 2005

Asato ma sad gamaya; Tamso ma jyotir gamaya

After the Times of India (whose disregard for fact and laziness in verification I had written about in an earlier post) and a number of other uninformed publications, it is the turn of the President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam to have been misinformed – and become a party to spreading misinformation! This is what he said at a meeting of senior police officers in Hyderabad: “You will realize that some of the developing countries, which are already in danger of terrorist attacks, have been singularly chosen to provide such high resolutions about them”.

No! Mr. President, you are wrong.

Forget fact checking, just repeat to yourself what you’ve been reported as saying. It doesn’t just sound absurd, it IS absurd. There’s no percentage for Google in conniving with terrorists! In fact, there’s no percentage for Google to be “singularly choosing” one, some or all of the developing countries! Why should they?

After thinking about this for a bit – when it will likely be clear that there is no motive that can link Google to be singularly choosing developing countries – you should have got someone on your staff to do a simple fact checking exercise. And this is what 10-15 minutes on the internet will uncover – basic facts such as:

1. The highest resolution areas are of locations in the US. In progressively decreasing order, Canada, Europe, other “developed” nations and metropolises in the third-world follow!

2. US’s interests abroad have been mapped out in great detail. These include areas in Iraq – where US military forces are currently engaging with enemy combatants. This mapping is NOT, presumably, to give any additional information to the enemies, it is because folks back home are likely to be curious about where their sons, daughters and loved ones have been sent to!

Easier still, have someone look through the software’s “Common Questions” page and test the claims for veracity. These newspaper-wallahs don’t have the systems in place to cross-check anything: that was obvious from that un-researched and incorrect Times of India article about areas around White house being “blanked out”. However you, sir, have a greater responsibility to the citizens of India for veracity in your statements. Specially because of your non-political background and previous scientific training and experience, your statements on such issues are taken more seriously by most.

And in this instance, there has been a slip-up. I trust some heads will roll in your speech-writing division and your people will learn not to depend on random newspaper articles for conclusions. As for you, even if in vain, I will hope that you will realize the error and – sooner rather than later – use some occasion to let the world know that by itself, the availability of more and better information that is freely accessible by all is an unambiguously good thing.

N.b. From the Rig Veda. See the entry at Wikipedia here.
अस्तो मा सद् गमय तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय मृत्योन् मा अमृतं गमय् ॐ शांति शांति शांति
Which transliterates to: Asato Ma Sad Gamaya; Tamaso Ma Joytir Gamaya; Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya; Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi

This means: "O Lord, Lead Us From Untruth To Truth, Lead Us From Darkness To Light, Lead Us From Death To Immortality, Aum (the universal sound of God) Let There Be Peace Peace Peace."
Erratum [Monday, October 17, 2005; 7.14am]: The Wikipedia entry reproduced above is sourced wrongly. As Piyush points out in his comment, it “is from the Third Brahmana of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28), which discusses the life force, i.e., Prana”, not from the Rig Veda. Sorry.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I am monarch of all I survey; My right there is none to dispute

Political discourse in our country is pedestrian – that’s not news. But there’s treasure everywhere: here’s an example which will make even the most jaded among us laugh out loud. According to Ms Ambika Soni of the Congress-I, “The BJP is a failed party because of the leadership which is autocratic and does not consult” (while discussing Pramod Mahajan’s commentary on BJP’s leadership).

Good heavens! Have you no shame, dear lady? Yes, I know, politics is the art of the impossible but how can say that and keep a straight face? You are in a party where, as even any child interested in checking facts will know, since 1967 (yes, that means since even before there was anything called the BJP), there has been no democracy within the party whatsoever!

In the 27 years since 1978, P V Narasimha Rao has been the President of your party for 5 years and Sitaram Kesri (he who had to cry and place his cap at Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s feet to “prove his loyalty”) for another 2; for the rest 20 years, your first family preferred to be in command directly! Oh, and before I forget, just before 1978, who was the President of Congress-I? A certain Mr. Dev Kant Baruah who is remembered only for his (one) quotable quote: “India is Indira and Indira is India”. And who will be your next President? Most likely someone who – in what morphed quickly from an interview to only an informal chat – claimed that he “could have been the Prime Minister of India at the age of 25”. Goodness me, yes, the BJP’s leadership is indeed ‘autocratic’ and ‘does not consult’.

Let us face it – our politics is now a complete extension of the feudal setup that the society has endured for ages. Political power is completely concentrated in the hands of one leader per party (Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Ms Mayawati, M/s Vajpayee, Mulayam S Yadav, Lalu Prasad, Pawar, Karunanidhi… the list goes on), not one party has any sort of working inner democracy (oh, of course they differ in degrees but when the whole class is failing, there’s little succor in Student x failing by a slightly smaller margin than Student y), power is bequeathed to wife and/or child (recent examples include Mr. Hooda in Haryana, Mr. Dutt’s daughter in Mumbai, Mr. Deora next door, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav in UP… this list goes on and on too!) and this bug contaminates all who come in contact! Socialists (Mulayams and Laloos of the world who reaped the harvest sown by Ram Manohar Lohia, Karpuri Thakur et al in their avowed struggle against the same feudal mindset), dalit leaders, communists are all infected now!

For our friends in the BJP who gloat (Ms Soni’s comments notwithstanding) that this is not so in their “organization based” party; pause, fellas – concentration of power is as strong in your setup too (and foster families are included in this reckoning). For the other friends – those of the communist variety – well, yes, you’re the ones who seem to be the in the ‘just failed’ category, but with Comrade Karat bending the spirit (even though not the letter) of the law in bringing his wife to the Rajya Sabha (alongwith that gadfly, Sitaram Yechuri) – not to forget the business interests of Comrade Basu’s son from the good old days – you’ve started your journey on the slippery slope too. The regional parties are almost always – and usually congenitally – single-leader centered.

Till the time that the votes reside either in the countryside or in urban slums – and they do so today, disproportionate to the relevant population distribution – the only way out is for the bourgeoisie (that’s you and me, dear reader – and don’t panic, please, that term has a meaning outside the Marxist lexicon too) to insist, at every given platform and at every snatched moment, that the government’s priority be more and better primary education. Until the voters are better educated, there is no redemption from these quasi-kings and queens: they are not likely to make a rational choice unless they can make the connection between the exercise of their franchise and their (or their children’s) development of the economic variety.

On the issue of education and the political process, the person who got it right was Robert Lowe (1811-1892), 1st Viscount Sherbrooke. In the matter of extending the franchise to all adult male members in England, he was of the opinion that first, “we must educate our masters, the people; else we will be at the mercy of a mob masquerading as a democracy”.

Closer home, one of the more prescient members of the Constituent Assembly, Frank Anthony (Central Provinces & Berar, General), had the following to say regarding the grant of franchise to all adult citizens “…if we had pursued the path of wisdom – more than that – of statesmanship, that we would have been justified to hasten slowly in this matter, that we would have not at one bound adopted the device of adult franchise but will have proceeded progressively; not necessarily gradually but progressively… …when the next elections are fought or the elections after that and with an electorate which will be predominantly illiterate, with an electorate which will be predominantly unaware of exercising the franchise on a basis of being able to analyze political issues in a rational way, that this electorate will not be stampeded by empty slogans by meretricious shibboleths into chasing political chimeras which will not only lead to chaos but to the very destruction of democracy which we have chosen to give them.” (Emphasis added)

If this sounds elitist, so be it! But before you jump to conclusions, mark Mr. Anthony’s words – “not necessarily gradually but progressively”. And of course, there’s no question of turning back the clock now. But the imperative is for all of us to lend our voice to the cause of education because without it, things are going to remain the same. Ach nein; not in the solutions mode again! There’s so much more to be written on that. I began this post mostly to share the mirth which Ms Soni’s comment produced in an otherwise drab day! Lets leave it at that, then – with at least the intent to come back to this topic at a later date.

N.b. Perhaps the real tragedy was in having, as the acting President of the Constituent Assembly, a person who embodied all that was good in our countryside – and whose estimation of his fellow villagers was based on self-referencing (and therefore a romantic, not realistic view) than a hard look at how vested interests could manipulate things.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in his closing remarks,
said the following in reply to Mr. Anthony’s point: “Some people have doubted the wisdom of adult franchise. Personally, although I look upon it as an experiment the result of which no one will be able to forecast today, I am not dismayed by it. I am a man of the village and although I have had to live in cities for a pretty long time, on account of my work, my roots are still there. I, therefore, know the village people who will constitute the bulk of this vast electorate. In my opinion, our people possess intelligence and commonsense. They also have a culture which the sophisticated people of today may not appreciate, but which is solid. They are not literate and do not possess the mechanical skill of reading and writing. But, I have no doubt in my mind that they are able to take measure of their own interest and also of the interests of the country at large if things are explained to them. In fact, in some respects, I consider them to be even more intelligent than many a worker in a factory, who loses his individuality and becomes more or less a part of the machine which he has to work. I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that if things are explained to them, they will not only be able to pick up the technique of election, but will be able to cast their votes in an intelligent manner and I have, therefore, no misgivings about the future, on their account. I cannot say the same thing about the other people who may try to influence them by slogans and by placing before them beautiful pictures of impracticable programmes. Nevertheless, I think their sturdy commonsense will enable them to see things in the right perspective. We can, therefore, reasonably hope that we shall have legislatures composed of members who shall have their feet on the ground and who will take a realistic view of things.” (Emphasis added)
Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s village – Jiradei – is a part of the Siwan parliamentary constituency. Were he alive, his MP – serving a respectable 4th term as a member of the Lok Sabha – would have been Mohammad Shahabuddin.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jodi No.1

Isme action hai, drama hai, suspense hai, comedy hai… aur yeh baki blog ki kahaniyon se jaraa hat ke hai… Ladies and gentlemen, I refer of course to the ongoing saga of the IIPM and cronies vs. many outraged bloggers.

See here for details on what happened (If you’re feeling lazy, this is my recollection: Some time back, a youth magazine called JAM writes an expose on IIPM. Subsequently, someone starts a story (almost surely false) that Aaj Tak has done a story on how JAM was paid off by Amity (as if they aren’t in enough trouble themselves already; and forgetting that JAM had done a recent expose on them too) to do this IIPM story and that JAM is a rag anyway. Now, the pace picks up: Mr. Gaurav Sabnis (enter our hero) writes about this at his blog and trashes IIPM. Ms Rashmi Agarwal (Editor, JAM) – enter, stage right, the heroine – also jumps in and asks for a copy of the Aaj Tak tape. Before you can say aafreen, the empire strikes back: there’s an absolutely hilarious legal notice that IIPM served to JAM, e-mailed to Sabnis and finally, a series of nothing-hilarious-about-them vitriolic, personal comments were left on Rashmi’s blog).

What got me involved was the utter disregard for (a) facts; (b) principles; and (c) decency (in most instances, all at the same time) displayed by the supporters of IIPM against M/s Sabnis and Agarwal. Facts first, most of the posts (see here and here for two samples) by these supporters are juvenile in their forgery and misrepresentations and have been outed within a short span (see here and here for the two examples – I was unhappy to have missed this detail in my response). Principles: IIPM’s disregard of Voltaire’s “I may not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to death your right to say it”. And last, but perhaps the most incendiary, the decency bit – where these supporters of IIPM made it personal: with the comments at Rashmi’s blog.

Anyway, much has been said and done. I agree with some of the lets not fight a wrong with another wrong thoughts that PK and Vijay Krishna have advocated (though PK retracted his views after Sabnis resigned his position at IBM/ Lenovo). On this resignation bit, quite uncalled for, I say: yes, yes, I admire Gaurav’s conviction and willingness to take a stand but this step was unnecessary, I thought (as Patton would’ve had reminded you, the object of battle is not to die for your country, it is to make the other poor bastard die for his).

As I write this, I believe the lawsuits epidemic is spreading: another blogger – Varna – reports receipt of an e-mail from IIPM’s legal cell, and in these inflationary days, the claim has been increased by Rs. 500million (Ms Varna is being sued for Rs. 1.75Bn as against the temporarily unemployed Mr. Sabnis’s Rs. 1.25Bn). As the Irish are given to asking “Is this a private fight or can anyone jump in?” Oh well, I’m in it anyway so here’s to more power for the bloggers in their fight with ponytail.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Cricket, India and Bharat

This is why these jokers will lose and the other ones will win – Mr. Raj Singh Dungarpur doesn’t like that fact that his opponent, Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya, “pronounces it as ‘kirkit’ or ‘krikate’ and fortunately he doesn’t have to spell it” (Indian Express; Online Edition). Oh, what a bad outcome for all concerned with Indian cricket but there it is again – India vs. Bharat – a divide more pernicious than the digital one, the urban/rural one, and any other that we face today.

Wake up and smell the coffee, partner: the days when you were Raj Singh Laxmansinhji (Maharajkumar of Dungarpur) are long, long gone and Jaggu dada – bad pronunciation and all – stands at least as tall as you in any forum. Second, choosing between you and him on grounds of cricketing knowledge will test even those most proficient in measuring things on nano-scales (see here for Mr. Dungarpur on the 1983 World Cup win “That World Cup was won by accident”; or read a factual account of his era of revolving door captainship – Srikkanth, Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Ganguly). Third, when it came to getting a voice in global cricket affairs that is commensurate with India’s contribution to its popularity, Dalmiya did more than you ever could (even though – or maybe because – you spent more time blending in). And fourth, the numbers are against you, my man – Bharat wins every time that it gets an opportunity to contest India: on a sometimes level, at other times a disadvantaged field. Remember the Ambani vs. Wadia battle? Nirma vs. Unilever? Dhanraj Pillai vs. K P S Gill?

Yes, I too hope that at some time in the future, Bharat’s wins will not mean throwing away the baby (civility, rules and equitable enforcement, rationality, etc.) with the bathwater (these sanctimonious, holier-than-thou faux-gentlemen who are happy to look the other way only if it is “one of us” bending the norms) but if I have to choose between a louse and a flea, let the Bharatiya pest win over the imposters, thank you very much.

As for the cricket, we'll just have to continue to be happy with the individual brilliance of our boys (may their tribe increase) for none of these administrators inspire any faith, do they?