This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Yatra without Nature of poverty a pilgrimage
LK Advani wants to be the epicentre of an anti-UPA storm. He is putting the BJP at risk
al Krishna Advani is in the news again. And this time, for a decent reason. Embarking on his 38-day Jan Chetna Yatra from Bihar, Mr Advani plans to highlight the UPA government’s ‘failings’ in tackling corruption. Frankly, not much more needs to be highlighted, considering the UPA government itself has been regularly feeding itself to the bonfire. The civil society representatives gathered around the vocal figure of Anna Hazare are doing a good job of keeping the issue alive and kicking. So why Mr Advani’s latest expedition? What he hopes is to turn emotions into votes, into a mandate against the central government and its outposts in the various states that go to the polls next year. In setting off on another roadshow — his sixth in 21 years — the 83-year-old BJP leader wants to encash the nation’s anti-corruption chips. While on paper this sounds commendable, the yatra could, ironically, prove to be the digression that the BJP doesn’t want and the UPA has been clamouring for without much success for a while. If all things go according to plan, Mr Advani will be the political lightning rod for those tired of an India pummelled by corruption. That he didn’t spare his own party when he mentioned on Tuesday that “if there is graft in my party, I will weed it out too” suggests that he has the best of intentions. But the real question, of course, is whether Mr Advani is in any position to weed out graft from his own party, never mind elsewhere. If he had a strong opinion about the rampant corruption sloshing about in the BJP government in Karnataka, we certainly didn’t see much in evidence. The truth about Mr Advani and his latest yatra lies elsewhere. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but ever the yatri and never the proverbial bride, it isn’t difficult to gauge that this is Mr Advani having his last shot at the post of prime minister. The BJP, on its part, has very valid reasons to be uncomfortable about his latest adventures. If it clicks, the BJP could end up with a prime ministerial candidate most of its members don’t want. But if the yatra is a damp squib, the BJP’s image as a serious national Opposition party will be dented. In a way, the BJP’s problem with Mr Advani is diametrically opposite to that of the Congress with Rahul Gandhi. Both parties are trying to usurp the anti-corruption momentum from ‘outsiders’ spearheaded by Mr Hazare. But while the Congress continues to be wary of thrusting Mr Gandhi into the electoral bathtub that hasn’t reached the right temperature lest the perennial ‘prime minister-in-waiting’ scalds himself, the BJP has been making a virtue out of not having a prime ministerial candidate in order to keep Mr Advani away from the helm of possibly happy affairs in the future. Because for the BJP, it’s about the destination, not the journey.
H I N DU STA N T I M ES , N EW D E L H I T H U RS DAY, O CTO B E R 1 3 , 2 0 1 1
I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money
PA B LO P I C A S S O
For a country to abandon its national currency in favour of the US dollar
Millions of Indians need a helping hand. An ideological schism at the top reflects the uncertainty about how to do this
n the village of Marenahalli Bunde — a settlement of quarry workers supplying Bangalore with stone for its seemingly unceasing building boom — I recently listened to 30-year-old Kayelveli (she uses one name), a third standard dropout, who narrated how she toiled from daybreak to dusk. “It takes a week to bash a truckload of stone,” she told me on the windswept bluff of the quarry, a giant, ugly gash about six storeys deep. Kayelveli, an energetic woman with jasmine in her hair and a smile on her round face, was not unhappy with life. Though her husband died of a heart attack three years ago, her 10-year-old daughter, Kirtishri, was a fourth standard student at a school for poor, young achievers. The R6,000 that Kayelveli earned every month was enough to buy food from local farmers for herself and her younger daughter and install a satellite-television dish on one of the sticks supporting her two-room shack. Kayelveli does not have a ration card and is not officially recognised as poor. “It’s a hard life, but it is better than before,” she said, “And I know my children will escape this.” No optimism was evident when, a few months earlier, I met 25-year-old Rajkumar, a tired-looking, clean-shaven odd-jobs man — in other words, unemployed — as he watched over his tuberculosis-afflicted wife, Rekha (both use one name), in a spare hospital in a shabby backstreet of old Gurgaon, a 20-minute drive from the chrome-and-steel towers of its flashy, globalised avatar. Their only satisfaction was that Rekha was getting free medical care, thanks to the National Health Insurance Scheme, which SAMAR HALARNKAR charges R30 and covers medical expenses up to R30,000 for families with ration cards. “This system works for people like us, but I do not know what will happen now,” said Rajkumar, an 8th class pass. “I need a steady job more than anything else, but I have no qualifications.” As UPA chief Sonia Gandhi prepares to give her verdict next week on the uproar over India’s official poverty line — declared as the ability to spend R32 every day in urban areas and R26 in rural — the stories of Rajkumar and Kayelveli indicate that India’s anti-poverty measures require rewiring and alignment with a word that increasingly defines 21st-century India: aspiration. Those on the left of the debate, including Sonia Gandhi, believe India underestimates the numbers of the poor. The official figure is about 400 million; the highest estimate is 800 million. They argue welfare spending must rise in what is one of the world’s most unequal nations. One way to do it is, some say, to withdraw tax exemptions to India Inc, now worth R4 lakh crore. Those on the right, including the prime minister, believe that India cannot afford to spend R4.5 lakh crore a year on the social sector. The benefits are uncertain (about 60% of food subsidies never reach the poor, for instance), at a time of slowing growth and a fiscal deficit tipped to hit 5% this year, instead of the budget target of 4.6%. Better, they say, to invest instead in India’s collapsing infrastructure and push the most effective anti-poverty measure — growth.
A laboured response to Suzuki’s unrest sends the wrong signal
Breaking barriers: Kayelveli, a quarry worker, at Marenahalli Bunde, near Bangalore PHOTO: GIREESH GV
The truth appears to be somewhere in between; it requires a step back from established positions to create a blend of subsidies, investments and re-imagined public services. First, with growing uncertainties, economic and otherwise, safety nets are vital. As a new study from the advocacy group Action Aid warns, India is ranked seventh, ahead of Pakistan, Nigeria and 21 other countries, for its vulnerability in growing food and feeding its poor. So tenuous is the existence of those just above the poverty line, about 250 million people, that it takes just one health crisis to slip below, says a 2010 report by the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India. Yet, as Rajkumar explained, without a job, subsidised food and basic health care were, at best, band aids. In his village, 16 km from Gurgaon, farming is receding and there is little on offer for a semi-educated man. Second, welfare spending cannot be India’s long-term fix. That can only come from investments in infrastructure and agriculture. As data from the world’s largest jobs-for-work programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, indicates, the rural poor are better off than before, but digging ditches and ponds does not create strong assets, skews the labour market and could slow growth needed to generate real jobs. Third, as Kayelveli’s story shows, India’s poor are willing and eager to haul themselves up the ladder. In Marenahalli Bunde, the grim, backbreaking job of smashing stones had delivered mobile phones and satellite dishes to most of the village, even those in shacks. Fourth, those moving up the ladder need access to basic public services. As part of Hindustan Times’ and Mint’s ‘Tracking Hunger’ series, my colleague Pramit Bhattacharya recently chronicled the life of ‘Pipeline’, a precarious Mumbai slum — it literally sits atop a water pipeline — home to maids, drivers and others just below the lower middle-class. Most people here earn twice as much as the R32-cutoff, get no doles and can afford food. But they have no health care and sanitation. So, most children in ‘Pipeline’ are malnourished, as are nearly 80,000 in India’s richest city. This is not to suggest that the malnourished, in general, are rich enough to buy food, especially at a time of record inflation. Poorer slums and India’s most deprived tribal areas resemble a failed State with millions consigned to real, grinding poverty. The common thread is the failure to invest in public services. With only 1% of its GDP spent on healthcare, India will continue to house the greatest share of the earth’s malnourished people. So, too, without more and better teachers, schools and universities, it will continue to produce semi-educated young people — and the statistic that only 15% of Indian graduates are employable. India must urgently decide how it can better returns on its investments.
With reference to the editorial It’s well worth labouring over (Our Take, October 11), industrialisation in any part of the world needs a climate where the worker-employer relation does not lose its trust. The problem starts when politicians intrude, try to create pocket boroughs and end up disrupting the peaceful running of the industry. When foreign investment started arriving in India, we promised a single-window service and no labour hassles. The government needs to take corrective action before incidents like the labour unrest at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant end up sending out a wrong message.
SK Shah, via email
In his article Personality disorder (October 11), Sumit Mitra highlights the failings and moral lapses of the Congress-led UPA government. That the party is still in power despite all its errors of omission and commission speaks volumes of its masterly ability to hide its true colour from the citizens. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never seems to tire of the dumb charade act. The UPA has all the makings of an autocratic tyranny under the guise of a democraticallyelected government.
A master class in deception
Ashish Rai, via email
The editorial Of fats and figures (The Pundit, October 10) talks about strategies implemented by various countries to penalise fat people by charging extra taxes on eatables. This is unjustified. Obesity has emerged as a global health hazard primarily due to fast food that affects the immune system in the body. We must encourage fat people to go for regular health check-ups or avail userfriendly exercises to counteract this menace.
AS Malhotra, Delhi
We at Hindustan Times would like to know more about what you want from your page. So write to us at Hindustan Times House, 18-20, KG Marg, New Delhi 110001 Phone: 91-011-66561234, firstname.lastname@example.org
The fat of the matter
BB not BFF anymore
How come you are walking upright and not bumping into others today?
Bonding for the best
The crisis in US-Pakistan relations is an opportunity for India
he politics of the Cold War had aligned India with the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States with Pakistan. US and India should have been allies as democracies that advance free speech, multi-party debates and religious tolerance. Instead, both decided to be unwise in choosing friends. India tilted towards the Soviet Union, the US aligned herself with Pakistan, which became increasingly unstable, teetering between terror and progress. America’s alliance with Pakistan yielded a key victory. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan helped in ending the Cold War on the West’s terms, expanding democracy and human rights to eastern Europe. After 9/11, a temporary alliance was formed between the US and Pakistan when former secretary of state Colin Powell delivered a tough ultimatum to Pakistan. Pakistan helped the US in the war on terror for a few years, but lately seem to have changed its mind. Islamabad’s real leaders in the InterServices Intelligence (ISI) seem unable to give up on their addiction to terror, whether carried out against civilians in Mumbai or Kabul. In recent weeks, key US officials have spoken out on Pakistan’s official support for the Haqqani Network. Despite cashing
Eat the rich
Raging against the wealthy is all the rage in the US. Meanwhile, we look on with envy at the protesters
ust when we were settling down to the notion of not being terribly guilt-wracked about being rich — or wanting to be rich — we get news from America that being wealthy is not only impolite but downright ugly. For the past week or so, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been picking up momentum in New York. Essentially, it is a protest against Wall Street, the symbolic heart of America’s capitalist system (which, on good days, goes by the name ‘The American Dream’), and the fat cats responsible for the economic crisis raging across the US. Unlike, say, the protests against corruption in our backyard, this ‘movement’ is going for the source of all things evil: money. Well, not money, but money clumping to some individuals (there are about 10 million millionaires in America) while staying clear of most others. The percentage of Americans demanding an overhaul of the economic system in the land of milk, $2.20 (R107) Starbucks small cappuccino and honey is still small. After all, according to a September AP-CNBC poll, one out of five Americans still believe they will become millionaires in the next decade — with 62% believing it to be “very unlikely” that they’ll make a million by 2020. No one really minds rich people when the going is good. But when it’s not, every rich man suddenly becomes a cigar buddy of one of the Lehman brothers. We don’t want to grade victimhood, but those now planning a ‘Manhattan Millionaires March’ to picket outside the homes of New York’s wealthiest may be less badly off than many others who would sell their right kidney to be in their shoes. The prospect of Batman being called in to deliver the billionaire Bruce Wayne to justice could throw any socio-economic model into a tailspin. Perhaps we could export Montek ‘Why so theoretical?’ Ahluwalia to protect the well-heeled against the ‘above poverty’ mob gathered in Central Park.
BlackBerry services have blacked out since Tuesday. I can’t chat on BB messenger and can receive and send e-mails only in small windows of time. So I’m no longer connected while I walk, run, work, eat or sleep. Quite. Millions of BB users in Europe, West Asia, Africa, parts of Latin America, Asia and India have been ■ Research in affected. All because eMotional of what the men in atyachar BlackBerry are calling a ‘core switch failure’. Well, it sounds very techy, so I am guessing it’s complicated. What I do know is that I will now have to open my laptop, talk to people and send and receive archaic text messages which aren’t free. Do say: The government’s jammed the system to monitor us. Don’t say: Steve Jobs was here.
That sounds hardcore! Is the problem serious?
Through thick and thin: Manmohan Singh (left) with Barack Obama, November 2010
billion-dollar annual cheques from the US taxpayer, the Pakistan-backed Haqqanis attack US and Afghan targets. US ambassadors in Kabul and Islamabad confirmed the links, backed up by the secretaries of state and defence. Some might see this as a crisis in US-Pakistan relations. I see it as an opportunity for India and the US to be allies. Both nations fight terror, advance democracy and are committed to tolerance in an increasingly intolerant world. India needs access to US markets to boost economic growth as well as defence technology to secure an increasingly dangerous Indian Ocean. The US needs India too. As one of the fastest-growing markets, its export sector
can expand in India, reassured by India’s common law and western-style institutions. As two of the three largest economies of the 21st century (China being the third), there is an economic synergy that would benefit both nations. Most importantly, India doesn’t have to be convinced to fight terror. India’s leaders and her people know all too well the costs of terror. India, in fact, is the more experienced partner in fighting terror. One last point. As the US leaves Afghanistan, who can help the Afghan government fight terror? The ISI in Islamabad hopes that the Haqqanis will wait till America leaves, and then build more terror training camps inside Afghanistan. The US should respond by encouraging a long-term partnership with India in Afghanistan. It should ‘tilt’ towards India in its diplomacy, assistance and military planning, building an alliance of democracies to support stability in Afghanistan. As one of Afghanistan’s largest donors, India’s $1.3 billion bilateral assistance programme has been crucial to foster the transition in Afghanistan. An India-US alliance would serve both economic and military purposes. It would join the largest democracies, building synergy between two huge economies. In the long run, it would replace the US in Afghanistan with India giving Afghans, who reject terror, a long-term regional partner. Most importantly, it would change the current calculus of the Haqqanis and ISI who hope to wait out till the West leaves Afghanistan. Mark Kirk is the junior senator for Illinois
The views expressed by the author are personal
ver since his first album The Unforgettables was released in 1976, Jagjit Singh became a soother of frayed nerves, a rebuilder of broken homes, a fallback for the jilted, and a solace for those agitated by the multiple ironies of the human condition. His compositions broke music industry records and penetrated listeners’ hearts. Jagjit often responded to his legions of ardent fans by carving new chapters in his astonishingly productive career. When the ghazal-loving public asked for less philosophical and more romantic output, or less arcane Urdu poetry and more everyday Urdu lyrics, Jagjit heard them and moulded his oeuvre accordingly. There are phases in which he leaned towards one type of ghazal rendition, only to move on to a new terrain with altered emphases. The Jagjit of the 1980s and the Jagjit of the last decade were
Jagjit Singh was that rarity who dazzled both pundits and plebians
weave it into his music radically different, not only endeared him to even in the ageing of his vintage those uninitiated into voice, but also in topical Indian classical and choice and innovation. semi-classical music. Best remembered as the A Sikh who rose from reviver of the ghazal from humble origins and declining mass populardazzled pundits and pleity, Jagjit was a believer bians alike, his creative in substance rather than interpretation of specific form. He never hesitated words and phrases came to experiment with western instruments. A ghazal ■ Melody’s master: Jagjit Singh straight from the soil of in Delhi, September 3, 2011 Punjab. While his conmaestro clad in white tribution to preserving pumps and jeans sounds Urdu verse is obvious, Jagjit was also a incongruous. But Jagjit pulled it off with peerless exponent of Punjabi as a sweet élan and dignity. and hummable language, not the roughHe was always a jovial Punjabi whose hewn tongue it is notorious for. penchant for humour and ability to
The Soul Man
Jagjit epitomised values of decency and humanity. In his later compositions, he chose poetry that poured scorn on the constraints of modernity. He did expose the false morality of the ‘waaiz’ (preacher) and the ‘sheikh’ (cleric) in keeping with traditional ghazal ideology. But he also sang couplets on everyday realities of inflation and lying politicians. He pithily captured inter-personal and social dilemmas, packaging them into finished gems of music. The ‘dard’ (pain) and ‘gham’ (pathos) that sprung from his personal losses were transposed onto the wider world’s travails. Alas, there will be no more soul-tugging concerts or new albums from Jagjit Singh, but what he has left is enough. As long as the languages he beautified through music survive, he will remain literally Jagjit, the winner of the world. Sreeram Chaulia is vice-dean, Jindal School of International Affairs
The views expressed by the author are personal