Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kerala This Week, Vol 3, 2006

First things first.. Happy Kerala Day!

Kerala celebrates its 50th year of formation. And I guess most Keralites, like me, hope it will also be an year of transformation. I can already sense some kind of effort, atleast mental, gaining momentum among the new generation, an effort stemming from years of political slavery and unfavorable social circumstances. I hope the efforts collectively translate into something worthwhile, so we dont have to wait another 50 years.

P.M. Manmohan Singh has arrived in Kerala to join the rest of us in the celebrations. As always, the people expect some "sops" and "announcements" from the PM, and this time in terms of clearance for Vizhinjam Port, more financial assistance for the farmers (wonder who "ate" the previous assistances), the much-debated IIT in Kerala (time to restart the Kochi versus Trivandrum bout!!), upgradation of Trivandrum International Airport ( a plan thats been planned since 1990's, meanwhile there have been demands to have airports at Kottayam, Tiruvalla, Kannur, Wayanad and almost one in every other district! Also I hear that the design currently approved for the airport will not be enough to handle the traffic and volume by the time the airport is finally completed!) and more PSUs in the state (so we can have more unions and strikes), among other declarations.

In return, the people of Kerala (actually just one gentleman did the honor) offered an email threat to the P.M.. The gentleman also remembered President Kalam just in case he also decided to pop by at the party. Later the cops found out that the threat was actually all for the sake of his love lost, and in return he found that all is not fair in love and war.

But security continued to be at an unprecendented level, mainly to ensure that the P.M and other dignitaries dont get bitten by mosquitoes. After all we are still not sure why people in Kerala are dying : Chikungunya? Dengue? Viral disease? Malaria? Liver cirrhossis? Endosulfan? Coke? Pepsi? Possibilities are too many!

The honorable PM is joined in celebration, which apparently is going to be a month-long event, by none other than the newly appointed Defence Minister A.K. Antony ( Yes, defence minister of India! surprise surprise! so much that someone quipped online he is the best defence minister as he is very good in self-defense) and also the great M.P from Trivandrum, "the Anniyan", who decided to gift the people of Trivandrum his presence and sight on this great day ( One funny thing about Mr.Pan is that every time he visits Trivandrum, which is once every 3 months, he gives a speech warning the central government for its anti-Kerala and anti-Trivandrum policies.. but then he disappears for a couple of months to Delhi and hangs out with the very central government there doing nothing..Apparently the Delhi weather is good for his hair) and ofcourse, the enitre coterie of the state government machinery.

Our Chief is undecided whether to smile or not, especially since he will be sharing the stage with "bourgeois"! Another minister has decided he will just sleep through the function. Other ministers are not sure about attending the function as they are still learning about their assigned portfolios from the respective secretaries. Ex Minister Joseph is reportedly unhappy about the seating arrangement, as they have seated him away from all know. And also kept all microphones away from him, just in case he decides to sing instead of know.

The press continued to play spoilsport with all sorts of messed-up reports continuing as headlines.. A leading City edition of an English daily reported in front page on how Condoms are choking the drainage pipes of leading IT companies (wonder why media is always hellbent on such propoganda..I wonder if there is any truth in such crappy reports, and it sounds more of a sales pitch than anything else. I am sure there is nothing new going on in IT companies. And if at all its true, it must be that more people have begun to use condoms, unlike yesteryears when the same things happened in any other office or neighbourhood without condoms. Anyway I am sure it was thrilling news for the majority of the jobless in the state). And on the same day another Malayalam daily applauded the IT gains of the state with the headline "Technoparkil Adambara karukalude melam" (which translates into : IT guys are just freaking out in posh cars, what the hell are all non-IT people doing?). Meanwhile another paper reported on how CPM who continuously opposed the Smart City project is now in discussion with the promoters for a stake in the project! (blimey!) Yet another report brought out the dismal presence of Brand IT-Kerala in the just concluded So much for IT friendliness and IT promotion!!

Meanwhile, bus and lorry operators denounced the governments decision to curb their rights to mow down smaller cars, motorcyclists and pedestrians. They termed the decision of the government to implement mandatory "speed-governors" on their vehicles as a direct threat to their fundamental right to overspeed and kill. The All-Kerala-Heavy Vehicles-Employees-Union Secretary in a statement pounced on the state government and said the state already has a governor. They have begun an "indefinite strike" and with public transport already crippled, the state is in a grave situation. With half the state flooded with incessant rains, publich transport was the only mode of transport safe to get across from one point to another. Now thats also gone.. The government quickly decided to give more thrust to the Inland Waterways project, considering that most of the state is perpetually under water nowadays. And luckily enough, the tourism department conducted the Kerala Boat Show at the appropriate time. They are even planning an exchange offer: "exchange your Maruti for a boat".

Meanwhile, the official website of the Kerala Government now displays this message:

"November 1st is the 'Keralappiravi day'. Kerala State came into existence on 1st November 1956. In this regard the State Government has organised 50day's celebrations. The Ministry of Kerala is trying to reach new heights with novel ways of administration. Peoples' grievances are being sorted out by the sincere efforts of the Government. "

Good grief!! As much as I would like to write more on the above, I will save it for another day, another post..Lets all save ourselves for now.. Save Kerala! Let me go wish her a wonderful birthday and a great future!
Read more!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Creation Myth

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog to assess the public perception of violence in politics. The question was:

Do you think that hartals and shutdowns are favoured by:
1) A minority of the political parties?
2) Almost every party in Kerala?

Of the 39 voters who voted, 30 opted for (2). Before writing this article, I might have done the same, since almost every political and trade organization in Kerala has called a shutdown at some point in its history. It is only fair to believe that no one has developed a philosophical opposition to the idea of a shutdown.

But, it also makes sense to see the other side of the coin. 9 respondents chose (1) and therein, I see a different perspective on the issue and possibly some support for what I am about to claim. I believe that violence in Kerala politics is no longer a by-product of its grassroots movements; it is actually a political institution in itself.

The notion of institutions in our state politics may seem laughable. Given the chaos, scandals and scams splayed in the public media on a daily basis, the common man may be right in thinking that our leaders have no control over their cadets and followers, let alone themselves. But, at some point you have to ask yourself – Why is politics caught in a stagnant culture where strikes and hartals called at a whim are obeyed?

After looking at the rolls from the 2006 elections, I can offer a short one: violence has become an incentive in certain parties. Much in the same way that companies promote certain executives over others by measuring their sales performances, certain parties have and continue to use violence as a yardstick for political performance. In short, he/she who makes the most noise gets promoted the fastest. And not just any noise, it has to be a ruckus that is worthy of capturing the attention of the public so often fed a stale plate of “revolutionary” politics.

By law, any person running for election has to submit information regarding their criminal history or lack therefore. This information includes the IPC sections under which a case against a candidate is charged, so it is pretty easy to figure out who is charged with what, including unlawful assembly, rioting, assault, murder or intimidation. I looked for candidates with cases charged under three large categories: unlawful obstruction (IPC 143, 145, 149, 283), rioting (146, 147, 148) and assault/intimidation (323, 332, 353, 333, 358, 152, 324, 307, 308, 508).

What I found is that on average, the left-leaning parties (CPI(M) and CPI) are accused of engaging in more than twice as many illegal obstruction activities as the next party (DIC). Below, I have listed the top ten parties when it comes to candidates who are engaged in illegal obstructions, i.e., hartals and shutdowns.

You might say that that is an unfair measure if a very small contingent is accused in an atrociously high number of cases. Well, let us take a look at the proportion of candidates charged with such cases in each party. Again, the CPI(M) and CPI parties come out on top as between 60% and 80% of their candidates have been charged with such activities. The nearest party (DIC) is about 40% culpable. Still high, but when you combine with the frequency of the charges, the left is entirely in a league of its own.

Ok, so you say, illegal obstruction activities are not that serious. After all, what is a hartal or shutdown here or there? It’s all “peaceful”. I beg to differ and I could not have a bigger begging bowl. Let us kick it up a notch and take a look at instances of rioting.

Rioting is far more serious than hartals and shutdowns, because mob violence is the worst expression of a civilization. It is what happens when people disagree to talk and resort to violence to express themselves. It is anathema to a society that overcame bigger problems like subjugation and foreign oppression through non-violence. So, how does the left score?

Why don’t we kick up the violence meter all the way? Let us take a look at how the parties rank on the basis of assault / intimidation cases.

Note that in all three categories, a candidate in the highest-scoring party is about twice as likely as the runner-up and more than thrice as likely as the second runner-up to be charged with a crime.

Lastly, I present what I like to call the “Politician of the Month” roster. Most companies hand out “Employee of the Month” awards in recognition for what they view as outstanding performance. Highly competitive organizations run themselves by differentiating between their employees’ abilities. Politics is no different. But are you at ease with the yardstick used in our current state of politics?

The conclusion is inescapable to me: there is an unspoken “revolt, then get promoted” mechanism in the left-leaning parties. Revolution and progress have become synonymous to them. How has this happened?

The story begins with the left’s entrenched appeal to the poor and downtrodden. Politics is like any other territorial battle. The most effective way to cordon off a vote bank is by ensuring that everyone else is fiercely opposed. After all, when life seems like a zero-sum game, why change the rules of the game? Why not perpetuate the perception that the haves benefit at the expense of the have-nots? Why not oppose any benefits that could have come from egalitarian land reforms by freeing industry and other more productive uses of land than agriculture? Why not see it to that the poor are actually gainfully employed? Because the left is more than an ideology in a democracy – it is a self-preserving organism like everything else.

People often juxtapose capitalism and communism as alternate economic systems. This has been our greatest folly and the biggest hoax the left has pulled off because communism is not an economic system. It is a creation myth – a story of how people fall into classes and are by birth, opposed to each other. Here is the irony though. In a dictatorship, communism has no opponents and therefore, it can happily pursue the economic welfare of all. In a democracy however, communism is just like any other political entity. And poor democracies in particular are perfect breeding grounds for the left. Because unlike other political parties, the left already has a handy divisive myth. It can protect and perpetuate its vote banks. That is why the story of class warfare has become a self-fulfilling way of life in Kerala.

Endnotes to Methodology:
I included every case, regardless of whether it was pending, bailed, stayed or sentenced. The only exceptions I made, of course, were those that were acquited, of which needless to say, there were very few. I also excluded 50 candidates whose information was not available or was illegible in the ECI database.
Read more!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Chikun-duniya episode

What we know: More than 100 people dead in Kerala in under 4 weeks; possibly due to a viral disease with mosquito as vector. The state authorities remain clueless, and the public continue to be a donkey at their mercy.

What we have heard and seen so far:

Kerala Legislative Assembly:
Opposition MLA's prepare for walk-out over the issue of alarming deaths in Kerala, and question the Honorable Health Minister for answers.

Honorable health minister: "What death? Where? When? Nobody has died in my state! What chikungunya? Nobody has ever died in Kerala because of this Chikun thing.."

Opposition walks out, assembly is adjourned while mosquitoes continue to bite and people continue to die.

Union Health Minister, during his in-and-out visit to the state to "assess the situation": "It is certainly not Chikungunya!"

Honorable CM 's office, Trivandrum:
CM:"Those who say the deaths were not due to Chikungunya are duty bound to make it clear how such a large number of deaths had occurred in Alappuzha." (Not sure if he realized his own health minister was the first to deny the deaths!)

Indian Medical Association (Kerala __ Chapter): "The deaths since early September were possibly not due to chikungunya"

Principal, Government Homeopathic Medical College: "Homeo medicines such as Uppttorium (!!#??*?!@), Rextokes(!?@##??!) and Brayonia (!!??##!^!) were effective for prevention and cure of the disease"

Kerala Home minister: "As the World Health Organisation (WHO) has come out with a report saying that the fever widespread here is not chikungunya, things have cheered up. There have been no reports of cancellation by tourists who have already booked to travel to Kerala" (While our beloved minister is cheering himself up, people are still dying!!)

Union Tourism Minister: "The tourist officers posted abroad have been directed to dispel any misconceptions about the diseases and inform the visitors that these are not contagious"

An awakened Kerala StateHealth Minister: " The Kerala government will launch a sanitation and "anti-mosquito" drive"

Alphonse, a social activist: "If you enter a government hospital in Kerala, you are sure to get some disease"

The wisest and the most literate men who rule the land (quick to capitalize on the whole fiasco, not bothered about either the mosquitoes or the deaths): " There is no chikungunya in Kerala. Its all made up and a ploy by capitalists. A company from the US is selling Chikungunya card tests and making huge profits! How can we let this happen in Kerala?" (The entire state did not have a lab with facilities to test for the disease until a couple of days ago, and the card-tests were in demand because people wanted to rule themselves out of the disease.)

The show goes on..and now its a bit more complicated with Dengue fever also being rampant across the nation.

Ouch! I got bitten by a mosquito! Let me get that Uppttorium..
Read more!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How many naughty politicians does it take?

In the movie, the Patriot, the legendary Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) questions the revolutionary forces recruiting men for their war against England, “"Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?" The question although posed in a colonial setting is relevant to anyone who is concerned about who leads Kerala. Let me digress for a moment.

The 2004 General Elections in Kerala may not have seemed very different from previous elections, but was unique in one aspect. It was the first time a 25-member team called Election Watch Kerala organized the first public dissemination of information concerning electoral candidates from Kerala. It was widely publicized in local magazines and newspapers. If the name of the organization sounds familiar, it’s also because the parent NGO, Election Watch, is based in Andhra Pradesh where it has been monitoring electoral rolls for quite some years now. One of the main conclusions of Election Watch Kerala’s public report was that "unlike many other states, Kerala does not have a serious problem of criminals entering the election arena. Most cases declared by candidates relate to law and order issues and are a by product of Kerala's agitation politics."

Note that this is the same period that threw up erstwhile candidates as Babloo Shrivastava into the election foray. So it should come as no surprise that Kerala seems to be better off. Or is it?

It is true that by and large, Kerala does not have a significant influx of candidates with criminal backgrounds into elections. However, there is the problem of Kerala's “agitation" politics, which is an issue that has grown uncontrollably. Of all the Indian states, Kerala is most prone to strikes and hartals, which effectively shuts down essential and non-essential services in the state.

Whenever I ask people what they think about how to put an end to this situation, it appears that we run against a wall. There is a perception that every political party is in a cartel favouring this method of political protest. What I want to know is how widespread is that notion. So, I propose a survey:

Do you think that hartals and shutdowns are favoured by:
1) A minority of the political parties?
2) Almost every party in Kerala?

It may be fair to ask what is the point of this survey. Well, I have been doing some research on the side and looking at the 2006 State Assembly electoral rolls myself. There were more than 900 candidates in the election, so I have been a little busy for a while. But, I think it would be interesting to test this hypothesis by analyzing the criminal backgrounds of these candidates and looking at their penchant for hartals and violence – behaviour that our dear Chief Minister labelled as “naughty”.

If you haven’t caught on to the significance of the answer, consider for a second what would happen if the electoral rolls suggested that option (1) was the answer. I say “suggest” because there is a leap of reasoning you have to make. But if there is one ideology amidst others that promotes this form of protest, then I think that’s of concern to everyone who hates Kerala’s 1 shutdown a month practice. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were being ruled by one tyrant or too many?

So, tell me, how “naughty” do you think our politicians are?
Read more!

Terms of Use and Disclaimer