Jest the elections

Drama is dharma in Indian politics. Look at the war of words the current election in Gujarat has become. The old throne and the new throne – if you are not with me on this one just let me make it clearer – the old throne refers to the Gandhis’ represented by Rahul. And the new throne is of course the BJP represented by our beloved Modiji. The question is will this election bring us closer to a parliament where opposition was or will the opposition get more teeth.

We have our teeth clenched. We are witnessing the drama with bated breath. The prince royal has written a letter to the election commissioner alleging violation of code of conduct by Modiji for holding a “roadshow” on polling day. The Indian Express has called it a “strongly¬† worded” letter. it has accused the EC for blatant “prejudice” and “failure to act against the PM and BJP leaders.¬† The PM had, according to the newspaper walked in front of a crowd gathered outside a school that had been converted to a polling booth in Sabarmati district of Gujarat. The letter alleged that “the independence of the EC had been compromised.” It asked the EC to lodge an FIR against the PM and the BJP. According Shailaja Bajpai the TV channels had a field day siding one or the other party.

The out come you see mon ami is with the Good Lord. His Will is final. But I shudder to think what would happen if the BJP does win – the roadshow will continue to the general elections in 2019. There are other assembly polls lined up in 2018. Oh how this nation lives from election to election. In between there are scandals, accusations, activism of a sort.

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From the media

A mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was attacked with an explosive device and then sprayed with gun fire as the people were fleeing the mosque. There are reports that more than 230 worshippers were killed. There 109 were wounded, The New York Times reports. This attack has been called the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history. The ruthlessness of the attack has sent shock waves across Egypt. Attacks on mosques are rare and the ISIS usually targets Coptic churches and pilgrims, according to the newspaper.

Sinai peninsula has seen several militant attacks by Islamic extremists. The majority of the victims in this incident were Sufi Muslims whom the Islamic State and the other extremists call heretical. The attack flies in the face of the Egyptian President who cracked down on political freedom to combat Islamic extremism. Hours after the incident the Egyptian military launched several air strikes targetting fleeing militants using SUVs, according to New York Times citing military officials. No group has claimed the attack.

The attack started mid-day, during Friday prayers. Gun-men also set fire to cars parked outiside to hinder escape. They opened fire on ambulances as they arrived outside the mosque, reports New York Times citing TV reports.

Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe has stepped down from presidency. He ruled as a dictator for 37 years, he is 93 years old. He had been President since the nation became independent. He had proclaimed that “only God would remove him,” reports New York Times. The news about his resignation came as impeachment proceedings were underway in Zimbabwe’s parliament. The proceedings were halted when it became known that Mugabe had resigned. The speaker of the parliament read out a letter in which Mugabe had said he was resigning with immidiet effect, “for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe.” He also said that he was doing so for the peaceful transfer of power. Lawmakers are reported to have “erupted in cheers,” at the news.

The former vice president, Mr. Mnangagwa was sworn in as the new President. In his inaugural speech the President said that he will, “re-engage with the world.” He tried to reassure the investors, whose cooperation the nation needs badly. During the Mugabe era, the Zimbabwe currency had almost become useless as inflation soared. Mr. Mnangagwa’s dismissal had brought on the latest crisis, the military responded by putting Mr. Mugabe under house arrest. The Zanu – PF party had also intervened at this point. Mugabe had wanted the First Lady Grace Mugabe to assume Presidency after Mugabe retired. This would not transpire now, she was quite unpopular. Mr. Mugabe would not be tried and would be given diplomatic immunity within his country.

An anniversary of another kind

On November 8 2017, the nation celebrated an anniversary like no other. It was the anniversary of demonetization. Meghnad Desai in his weekly column in Indian Express, Out of My Mind: Keep Changing said that the old currency was not devalued it was converted into Bank deposits. He goes on to say that the total money supply remained unchanged, people on the other hand take it to be a failure of the policy. He lauds Modi government’s decision and says that it cleared decades of debris left over from the previous government. Lenin said, and Desai has cited him in his column, you cannot make an omellete without breaking an egg, or lead a successful revolution without breaking heads.

He has emerged as the upholder of neo libreral values; Graffiti also holds similar views and has denounced socialism as the chief cause of India’s state of affairs. However, Mr. Desai what about the pain it caused millions of people. The poor who had stashed their cash in the cardboard boxes or steel trunks. Demonetization stole their life’s savings from under their noses. What about the small businesses that coud not repay their creditors – the merchants and wholesellers, etc. They could not pay their employees. It is a time in history which should be mourned. He however clarifies that the problem was not demonetization but remonetization. There weren’t enough currency notes printed to fill the vacuum. The new Rs. 2000 notes did not fit the ATMs. The machines had to be recalibareted.

He also goes on say that the loss of GDP was 0.5 percent in the first two quarters. Coming to bank NPAs the popular view is that the banks were recapitalized thereby watering down Vijay Malaya episode – Vijay Malaya owed a public sector bank Rs. 9000 crores in loan repayment. The government has salvaged the banks thereby washing away Malaya’s sins. Weather one wears the neo liberal hat or the socialist hat a sin remains a sin even in the economy of our times. Mr Desai you have beautifully covered Mr. Modi in laurels, that too at a time when elections are due in Gujarat. Mr. Desai, the poverty of our people is only partly because of the socialist path India followed. The people were poor because of the catastrophic lack of governance in the centuries before independence.

The constant invasions during the centuries prior to the British rule, the lack of intervention during famines and droughts by the colonial government. The post independence government followed a ridiculous path of ignoring the people’s basic needs, depending heavily on industrialization and nationalizing these. The Modi government hasn’t exactly done any good for the people either. The promised “Acche Din,” are turning to be nightmare for most Indians.

Give me strength

The POTUS has said that guns don’t take lives the people do. Only gun lobbyists say those words. Give that argument to the morons in your circle, there are plenty there. How many mothers, daughters, men and boys, women and children would need to die before you take some feeble measure, we know that you are held back by your backers – National Rifle Association. We know that you will never come out with measures to stop mad men getting access to deadly weapons.

It is mayhem out there in the US. In Las Vegas 58 people died. In New York City 8 people died, in Texas 26 people are reported killed, figure is slated to climb. Despite this, the President of America says that tougher gun laws would not have prevented the Texas killings. He argued that more laws would have meant more dead. Mr. Trump’s arguments reminds one of a cat chasing its tail, like the chicken and egg conundrum – which came first?

These arguments expose the shallowness of the person, his mental state, his inability to consider all arguments and make a decision. He was speaking to pressmen in Seoul. How effective would he be as a leader in the crisis that is looming and casting a shadow on the lives of the people in east Asia? He actually said that the good samaritan if he had not (I salute his courage) been armed he would not have been able to take away the gun from the suspect, there would have been hundreds dead. Are 26 people who died in the shooting too few for you? Isn’t even one life precious to you. You seem to have suggested something on those lines in Puerto Rico, when you remarked to the governor there that only 16 people had died in his territory, and had the gall to congratulate him for that. Don’t you have any respect for human lives. Or are you so bedazzled by $ millions and billions that you regard mere 20 or 30 lives too menial a figure.

The Guardian reports that his response to the gun attack was more muted when compared with his call for legislative and military action after the vehicle attack in Manhattan. He called for the Congress to “immidietly” repeal the “diversity visa lottery program.” Sayfullo Saipov was an Uzbeg, he used the program to enter the country in 2010. Trump argued for more “extreme vetting” of new comers. In the Las Vegas shooting his response to calls for tougher gun control laws was that it was too soon to talk policy change as the people were still grieveing. Although he suggested openess to prohibiting bump stock that transformed a rifle into a near automatic…which killed 58 people.What is significant is that NRA also came out with a statement saying that bump stock device should be banned. However, there is no sense of urgency and no legislation has been passed. All pointing to one thing the NRA hand.

Another day of shooting

There has been a shooting incidence in Texas. A gun man opened fire at a church killing 26 people and 20 were wounded. The First Baptist Church is located in Sutherland Springs in Wilson County of Texas, the victims were aged 5 to 72. The gun man was found dead in his car some miles away. Police have identified him as a young white male.

According to a report in France24, the gun man was armed with an assault rifle, opened fire inside a church. This was the deadliest mass shooting incident in Texas. The man was described as being a white male in his 20s. The shooter was confronted by an armed resident who engaged the suspect after grabbing his weapon, France24 reports quoting an official of the state of Texas. It is not clear how the suspect died, although report says that he might have been shot by the resident who confronted him.

As in the case of Las Vegas incident, several weapons were found, this time in the suspects vehicle. The Texas incident comes close on the heal of the of the one in New York, where 8 people were killed. In this incident the suspect had rammed his vehicle into a crowd on a bike path. This incident occurred on November 1 2017 in Lower Manhattan. The suspect was shot by police and injured in the stomach, the incident was described as an act of terror involving a lone man. The man rammed his pick up truck into a crowd from behind and then crashed into a school bus. Two adults and two children were inside the bus and they were injured, one student critically. The man came out of his truck weilding what appeared to be a gun but turned out to be a paint ball gun and a pallete gun. A note found in the suspects truck made referance to ISIS.

The right to vote

An article in The New York Times, “The Right to Vote is Never Safe,” Jon Grinspan, November 04 2017, goes into the history of right to vote in America and points out how the voters can be prevented from voting because of social prejudices – for example if they are Afro-American or impoverished whites. This disenfranchisement need not be institutional, it could be done through extra constitutional means. The first Blacks who voted were freed slaves, they lined up to cast their ballot. According to the author, this happened fifty years ago this month.

Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College – when he was formally inaugurated as POTUS he launched an inquiry which “raised the spectre of voter fraud.” The new states that entered the Union 200 years ago did not have provisions in their constitutions that voters must own properties, the older states had this requirement. The newer states allowed the poor white and the freed slaves to vote – political power did not require wealth. Similarly in the UK anyone who wanted to be a candidate had to be landowner, member of the aristocracy before the reforms changed all that.

In India, the Dalits are wooed by all parties because they form the largest vote bank. However, this does not translate into better life for them, on the whole. They are still treated worse than animals, beaten and killed. This brings me to the core of this post. Voting or the right to vote in an election does not translate into better lives for a large number of people, in the US there are people who are impoverished due to unemployment, or due to bad health, they are rendered homeless when the period of their unemployment extends over a long period of time, or their medical bills mount and they go deeper into debt. The blacks and the immigrants face the brunt of bad policies. They become victims of ultra right angst. In India, the Dalits have been subjected to vigilante attacks. So the question one should be asking is, “how can this democratic process be used to carry out systemic change.” Graffiti has written about democratic freedom not actually translating into better life for a large majority of the population.

In the present decade huge wealth has become concentrated in the hands of the few. The masses of Indians live for the day, when they wake up each morning the struggle begins to feed themselves. The various arms of the government that are meant to bring succour to the poor fail miserably as the government brings in new regulations that render the poor more miserable and the miserable die because the basics of life are not accessible to them. We are a democracy only when there are elections – after elections the party which comes to power because the electorate overwhelmingly voted for them…becomes arrogant and ignores the wishes of that very same electorate. GST, demonetization, viglantism, Aadhar linking are all pointers to this key fact of our democracy.

Hunger gnaws the poor, while the granaries are full

The news that has shaken thinking people, about the child who died a slow death because the family had not linked Aadhaar Card to their ration card so could not avail of the food grains from the fair price shop. This story is no islolated case of the bureaucracy-politician callousness. There are numerous stories, like the fact that food grains rot while the people die of hunger.  The fact that the government wants to reduce the number of beneficiaries by making Aadhaar as the basis for availing government services is quite clear. 

The Central Government under a different dispensation floated a scheme called Integrated Child Development Scheme whereby children aged 0-5 and expectant and lactating mothers could avail of nutritous meals, in 1975. The tenth five year plan gave impetus to the scheme and was to be operational mainly in the rural areas. Besides nutrition it provided preschoolers with preschool education, primary healthcare to under 6 year olds and mothers. The scheme endervoured to fight malnutrition and ill health. The scheme provided for robust personnel backup with supervisory staff to check on whether the schemes parameters were being adhered to and be a feedback mechanism, reporting to higher authorities the complaints and suggestions of the ground level staff. The National Institute of Child Development and Public Cooperation (NIPCCD) was the nodal organisation set up under the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India. This institution provides training of the supervisory personnel, and refresher courses. 

The fact is that despite the ICDS, operational in rural as well as the urban areas has not resulted in bettering the lot of the beneficaries. This despite the fact that the government has spent $2.5 billion (2012 – 13 fiscal year). The readers of Graffiti would be aware that the under 6 years old face stunting and other forms of severe malnutrition along with the women. The states which are poorest have received least coverage and funding. 

India still ranks very low in terms of Human Development Index. One was involved with the Evaluation Study carried out in the 1990s. The fact that the study was carried out by the nodal agency itself should have raised eyebrows. The fact that the centers were functioning in a lackadaisical manner in the Capital of India should give us a taste of its implementation in other less endowed states. The anganwadi the focal point of the scheme at the grassroots where preschoolers and women availed services lacked in many areas. The first impression was that the foodstuff meant for the preschoolers was stacked on the floor where the rats had free access. The other point is that the fruits meant for the preschoolers did not reach them, they may have been consumed by the more powerful in the community who were not the beneficiaries. Pilferage of food stuff was one of the allegations made against the personnel. The other more worrying obervation of the team was the quality of the personnel. The personnel lacked enthusiasm, and were not very well versed about the various components of the services under the ICDS program.

Now coming to the Aadhar Card. R.Ramakumar of Tata Institute of Social Sciences in an editorial in The Hindu wrote that the project was being implemented without any feasiblity study being carried out. There was no study of the cost benefits of the project, therefore there was no way of knowing whether the implementation would result in the desired benchmarks being achieved.  The government was, he said in his article, obscuring the security aspect of the whole process, wherein personal details along with biometric information was to be stored in some obscure server accessible to civil services. 

Now considering the above mentioned story about child death due to lack of Aadhar card, the very poor, the abjectly destitute, would they have the inclination to link their ration cards to the Aadhar Card – would you be inclined if your life was ebbing out because you had not eaten for days. Instead of providing free canteens to avail healthy food, the government made certain that the poor did not have access to food.