Category Archives: Current Affairs

Note on fasting as a protest form

On fasts – A spoken word piece

A fast is not a childish tantrum. Childish tantrums are unconsciously selfish. A fast is not an adult tantrum. Adult tantrums are consciously selfish, and thus far worse than the unconscious tantrums of children.

A fast is conscious, and selfless. A fasting protester essentially makes this point – I believe in the justness of my cause far more than I believe in the importance of my own body or life. And it is this enticing hook, this glimpse of a larger vision, and higher possibility that makes supporters gravitate toward the center of this ultimate protest. The center, to borrow a Sufi metaphor, is the divine flame toward which rush the moths, seeking total annihilation and union with the divine.

Conscious and selfless activities usually disturb rule makers. The rule makers would rather have you lie in stupor, surrounded by the pettiness of your personal universe, and its little problems. Were you to peek over this wall and look out into the world, they fear you would see too much, and know much more. And knowing usually leads to doing – at least in the uninitiated. The well initiated know the pragmatic answer – that not acting is the best action to take.

At the center of the fast though, there is no room for pragmatism. At the center is a clarion call against the deepest instinct of self preservation. At the center is the echo of a resounding slap against the measured, risk free baby steps of our lives. No pretenses can hold their end of an argument here, in the face of a body that is consuming itself for a stand.

The journey toward that center is one we must take. In that journey something important may be discovered. That the gnawing “I” that takes up our all our time, doesn’t matter that much.


After note:

There is something very Eastern about fasting too. A culture that believes in the perpetuity of consciousness, regardless of the impermanence of the body clearly makes it possible for one to stake the body in the interest of a cause that could benefit humanity even in one’s absence. Of course the drive to seek justice in any case is a universal phenomenon.

Secondly, critics may argue that fasts are a form of blackmail, and hence must not be supported. However, the true success of a fast lies in the amount of support it garners from the general public. And it is here that we can hope that the moral compass of the ‘crowd’ will make the right choice, and support only just causes.


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Shashi Tharoor – Jaswant Singh

A delightfully timely piece by The Hindu about a Tharoor book that was highly critical of the Congress party.

The current Minister of State also took gentle digs at Sonia Gandhi, pointing out that she went to Cambridge to study English, not political philosophy. Referring to Ms Gandhi’s “renunciation” and her nomination of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, he said, “A builder’s daughter from Turino, without a college degree, with no experience of Indian life beyond the rarefied realms of the Prime Minister’s residence, fiercely protective of her privacy, so reserved and unsmiling in public that she has been unkindly dubbed ‘the Turin Shroud’ leading a billion Indians at the head of the world’s most complex, rambunctious and violent democracy? This situation, improbable if weren’t true, is proof again of the enduring appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.”

Amazing that Tharoor got away with so much and also managed to get a ministerial berth in the current government.

Two books, two consequences

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More Amartya

Sagarika Ghose, known for her tendency to make everyone jump to her conclusions, makes a mess of this entire interview with Amartya Sen.

Sagarika Ghose: So you are not saying talk to the enemy, do not lock him up.

Amartya Sen: No, I am not saying that.

Sagarika Ghose: But that’s the kind of message I am getting from your book.

Amartya Sen: Are you sure you are not reading a different book?

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Electronic Voting Machines

Subramanian Swamy offers a well reasoned analysis of the weaknesses of Electronic Voting Machines in this opinion piece.

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Who will be India’s Obama?

Rajdeep Sardesai makes an interesting point about the sidelining of youth in Indian politics by either the older guard or by sycophantic dynasty politics.

In the week when 46-year-old Barack Obama was being anointed the Democratic party’s presidential candidate in the United States, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister M Karunanidhi was being felicitated on his 85th birthday. While Obama made a stirring speech in front of hundreds of cheering young Americans, the DMK patriarch mumbled a few words on stage in the company of his two sons, MK Stalin and Azhagiri, both jostling to be heir-apparents to their ageing father’s legacy. The contrast could not have been more stark: in America, Obama represents “change” and “equal opportunity”, a charismatic Afro-American Harvard-educated lawyer who has risen up the political ladder through merit and hard work.

More here

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Disinvestment in Education

I read this article by Gurucharan Das on TOI- A tale of two numbers.

India spends a respectable 4% of GDP on education and even in this 2007 budget, spending on education (and health and rural employment schemes) has increased 35%. The failure is the result of deeper disease. Surveys show that one out of four school teachers is absent in state primary schools, and of those present one out of two is not teaching. …

Even though these private schools pay a third of the salary that unionised government teachers get, they deliver better results. Hence, 53% of urban children (and 18% of rural children) now attend private schools. This is very high by world standards. Even Chile, which privatised education in 1981, has achieved only 46.5% share of private enrolment after 25 years.

Clearly, market forces are in action here. If parents choose to put their kids in private schools, no one can stop them. So, instead of hiring another 200000 teachers for government schools where the inherent culture will ensure that teachers can get away with not teaching, why not start a process of selling off goverment schools to private parties? It’s a rather counter intuitive form of disinvestment, but I forsee that this would clearly make schools more competitive.

In most big cities, private schools vie with each other to bag the most number of ranks, the highest pass percentages etc. These performance metrics have a direct bearing on the number of applicants these schools receive, and the profits they make. Government schools on the other hand are not measured on performance. Teachers are unionized, and have no fear of losing their jobs. Clearly what we need is some sort of free market competition for these schools to get their acts together.

If the goverment does sell off schools to private parties, there is still a threat of fees shooting up to market rates. Here, the solution would be for the goverment to actually subsidize such public-private schools so that each such entity can be profitable in the long run. After all is government in the business of education? At most the role of the government should be that of a facilitator who creates the infrastructure and environment for educational institutions to succeed.

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Cricket ads

With the World Cup around the corner, it’s time for some very interesting cricket centric ads. Marketers will try every trick in the book to connect India’s inexplicable obsession with cricket to their product, and hope for a Pavlovian passion for the product to develop. This one is the new Nike ad. Excellent stuff.

And here’s an old Adidas ad featuring Sachin, that still gives me goosebumps. Notice how the phone rings throughout the ad, as the world comes to a standstill waiting for Sachin to face the delivery.

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