30 Jan 2009

My 'de-reservations' about the Reservation

An ELian view

The memories of anti-reservation protests haven't faded yet. We might have stopped talking about it as there are other issues to discuss about but to think the matter is over is too naive a view. Say, one fine morning Government decides to introduce reservation for religious minorities or any other disadvantaged group for that matter, the agenda will be back in limelight. There will be angry protests by the sections being negatively affected by this policy of positive discrimination, then there will be protests against the aforesaid protests by the sections being covered in the ambit of the new policy and there will be every possibility of these antagonist protests taking an ugly turn.

Meanwhile the media will have a field day. Everyone from a rickshaw-wala to a business tycoon will be seen pouring out their staggered and half baked views on the tube. Some looser might decide to light himself on fire to show his devotion to either cause. The scenes will be bad, the time will be bad. However, as it always happens, the present will become the past and the past is best forgotten to prepare for the future. We tend to make this mistake believing that future will bring something new, never realizing that clues of the future lie in the past itself.

I remember taking part in an anti-reservation rally back in 2006. How angry I was, how cheated I felt and now I realise how narrow my view was. It's not that now I am in perfect consonance with this variant of Affirmative Action but certainly now, I am able to see it as an essential tactic in the larger national strategy of achieving redistributive justice. However, the problem arises when it becomes 'an end in itself'. The policy makers at the high echelons forget the other tactical policy initiatives and hence everything gets eclipsed by the reservation policy.

Talking of reservation in educational institutes, it may be a strong pillar of affirmative action but foundation of such an affirmative action lies in universal reach of effective primary and secondary education. However, as the latter reaps fruits only in a long term, its sincere implementation gets neglected by the political class for whom quick returns matter the most to maintain their parliamentary strength. What can be a better option for them than the reservation policy! Hence, 'displacement of goals' takes place as reservation policy becomes a means to satisfy a different end altogether, i.e., amassing votes at the elections. Vote-bank politics leads to innovations to include more and more sections of the society within the reservation ambit rather than clipping down the list.

If we look into our caste history, we witness a phenomena known as Sanskritization wherein the so called lower castes strive to move up the caste hierarchy by adopting 'cleaner' habits, to achieve a higher status in the society. However, in present scenario, we see people fighting to move down the hierarchy, the recent Gujjar agitation its apt example. So some sort of 'de-sanskritization' is taking place in contemporary Hindu society. The reason behind it is not far-fetched. With lower status comes better reservation provisions. Better the provisions, better the chance to rise the class and political hierarchy. The money and power provide a parallel means to attain a higher status in the society. Hence, diminution in the import of the caste based hierarchy as a means to attain the same takes place.

With this background to ponder over, I'll now be addressing those anti-reservationists who discard this policy in totality, i.e., in both letter and spirit. I must say they are making a grave mistake. By doing so, they are alienating the marginal sections of the society. The need is to accept the reservation policy in principle but oppose its misuse vehemently. India has a long history of caste system. To uproot all the associated ills, affirmative action is a must. As mentioned earlier, reservation is a strong pillar of the same. However, it should only be used if its right implementation is guaranteed or at least sincere efforts are made by the administration for the same.

Those opposing the misuse, should foremost take the marginal sections into confidence. These sections must be shown, how those in power want to keep them marginal to reap their votes by making false promises year after year. In a number of cases, the real enemies of the marginalized sections tend to be those from amongst their own ranks only, who have successfully attained power over the years. Till yesterday the two were equals but today one is the 'mai-baap' of the other. Hence, they will try their best to keep this equation in their own favour by perpetuating the miseries of their brethren. They'll make promises but tactfully keep them unfulfilled and put the blame on the 'others'.

Hence, the breed of anti-reservationists, I am addressing here, help such manipulators by distinguishing themselves as a pool of 'others' against whom the wrath of the marginal sections can be directed by the dominant ones amongst them.

Things are not always black or white. Its important to identify the different shades of grey that lie within. Think about it.

Image Courtesy
Not traceable. Kindly Intimate me for due credits.

23 Jan 2009

Of wars and awards

In brief..
In the last couple of weeks, busy with the preparations for my upcoming examination, I have being craving for some time to blog. Here 'some' can mean anywhere between 2-4 hours for a single posting. The previous post on Satyam took below half an hour as it had a very narrow scope. But the ideas which were coming in my mind these days needed more elaborate analysis and hence more time.
For example, my incongruent views on Palestine, Tamil Eelam and Kashmir issue. War has been raging in Sri Lanka and ceasefire was recently declared in Gaza but humanitarian crisis in both the regions are abundant. In the crossfire between the warring armies and the militant outfits, the price is paid by the innocent civilians. However, while I find myself sympathizing with the Palestinian cause, I am at least agreement with ‘L.T.T.E.'s struggle for Tamilian cause’ in Sri Lanka or for that matter coming back to India, Jihadist's call for azaadi in 'our' Kashmir.
At a first look these three issues seem very similar but on a closer look at the causes of origin, related ideology, methodology employed, overall organization and the leadership, one may unearth the differences. Even when such a deep analysis is undertaken by various persons, views bound to differ. On my behalf, with a caveat that neither my analysis is amateurish nor highly professional, I stand by my views that while the Jewish state of Israel is the real culprit in the Middle East crisis for last half a century, neither the present Sri Lankan establishment nor the Indian can be indicted on the remaining two issues respectively. However, my case is not that the Tamilian grievances or the Kashmiri grievances don't hold any weight but it is that those who claim to represent these grievances are only aggravating them.
Moreover, in the case of Middle East, Israel is being very adamant and with the backing of U.S. has chosen the path of belligerence instead of attending to the Palestinian grievances in an honest way. On the other hand, while Indian Government has been making democratic strides in Kashmir despite all the hurdles being placed by those from across the border, even the present Sri Lankan Government is waging the war to uproot the LTTE which has been fighting a loosing agenda having no connection to the genuine Tamilian grievances in the emerald island. Any work of reform is only possible when LTTE is wiped out of the the Northern and Eastern provinces.
What makes me say this needs a long explanation, a journey through the history of these three intriguing issues, for which I presently don’t have the time. So let’s keep it for sometime in future.
Now coming to another very hotly debated topic these days. What is it about India that the Westerners want to see? If the Bookers or Oscars are any indication to this, then definitely they love to see, read and thence award the wretchedness of India. Of course, I am pointing towards the two pieces of art, one literary which goes by the title 'The White Tiger' penned by Arvind Adiga and the other from the world of cinema which goes by the title 'Slumdog Millionaire' adapted from Vikas Swarup's 'Q&A' and directed by British director Danny Boyle.
People may accuse me of being too critical and ultra-nationalist, but believe me, I liked both the novel and the movie. The best thing about both is the way they have been woven. While the former is in the form of letters written by a 'rags to riches' Indian entrepreneur to Chinese premiere telling him the story of his journey from 'Darkness' to light, the latter shows the journey of a 'slumdog' from 'rags to riches' through a quiz game show. Both show the different shades of Indian reality like the caste system, communalism, shining metropolitans but ‘dark’ slums and villages, brothels, beggars, dirty politics, mafia, booming call centers, etc. in a unique fashion. Both are praiseworthy indeed.
However, my only question is why the Westerners only like to award the wretchedness of India. Again, I am not saying that they have no right to portray these realities. Danny Boyle as a British or Adiga as an Indian, both have the freedom to create whatever they want. Moreover what they have created portrays the truth. So my case is not against them. They are being awarded for their pieces of art and they do deserve it. However, I just get this feeling that Westerners tend to get very narrow about their view of East when it comes to appreciating its realities.
So they award a 'Blood Diamond' and 'The Last King of Scotland' when it comes to Africa, and 'The White Tiger' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' when it comes to India. They tend to have this impression that real cinema needs to be awarded, which is a good criteria indeed but why does the reality have to be wretched when the subject is India or Africa.
Again, I agree 'Slumdog Millionaire' is more about hopes and destiny of a young child and Boyle tried to capture that feeling through this portrayal. However, still I am apprehensive about the criteria used by the Westerners. Is it simply the quality of the art or the particular quantity, i.e., content that they like to see. Anyways keeping my apprehensions on hold, I must congratulate those behind the movie and wish them luck for Oscars.
It’s time to get back to some serious studies. I hope the next time I blog, I have ample time to treat my post in a better way. Adieu.

Images Courtesy
1. http://www.au.af.mil (original)
2. http://www.apha.org (edited)

7 Jan 2009

A'Satyam' ... asundaram

70000000000 is a huge number, a seven followed by ten sifars. And when it gets translated into money by prefixing a 'Rs.' tag to it, it becomes even bigger.
Corporate Governance gone haywire

When i switched on my television set this morning, I was welcomed with a piece of breaking news- "Satyam chairman Raju resigns". It was expected sooner or later, so there was nothing breaking about it. So, i just changed the channel and started surfing through. What I missed then was that this resignation did not come in the wake of Maytas acquisition controversy but a bigger and more sinister controversy that had been brewing all this time.
So when i again visited the news channel after having waded through the movies, animation, music channels et al, I came to know about the real news. B. Ramalinga Raju, the charismatic founder and Chairman of Satyam Computer Services Ltd, in a letter to the (still remaining) Board of Directors of his company, "with deep regret and tremendous burden that I am carrying on my conscience", admitted to a fraud to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore.
Fortunes of the India's fourth largest IT company started to take a U-turn when last month, following the strong resistance by its investors, the company had to backtrack on its decision to acquire two infrastructure firms Maytas Properties and Maytas Infrastructure promoted by the founder's family. Following this, a number of independent directors stepped down owning moral responsibility for not opposing the failed acquisition.
This news was followed by another revelation within a weeks time that the company has been barred from all business at the World Bank for eight years. The reason provided was that Satyam had been found providing 'improper benefits' or in simple terms, bribing the bank staff to acquire contracts. There have also been allegations against Satyam of causing security breaches at the bank.
As if all this was not enough to bring disrepute to this reputable Indian firm, now comes the biggest news of all. Mr. Raju has admitted that he had falsified the accounts and assets of his company and inflated its profits, hence taking the shareholders on a ride. However, Mr. Raju was also on a dangerous ride himself as he puts it in his letter to the BoD. He writes, "It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten."
This is undoubtedly, one of the most controversial cases of corporate governance gone haywire in the recent history of Corporate India. We have had Harshad Mehtas and Ketan Parekhs but this is a case apart as here at the centre of the big fraud is not just any stock broker but the founder and chairman of one of India's pioneering company. In all the economic mess we have been seeing of late, as skeletons kept tumbling out of the Corporate West's cupboard , we in India atleast felt proud of our corporate sector for not having indulged in any wrongdoing. But now the myth has been broken.
Mr. Raju further reveals that Satyam had planned to complete the Maytas acquisition deal "as the last attempt to fill fictitious assets with real ones." Hence, the Maytas fraud was just a last ditched attempt to keep a much bigger fraud from being exposed. Chester Barnard, the first to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the decision making process had clearly classified the decisions into the organizational ones and the private ones. However, when a corporate executive tends to merge the two, problems are bound to arise. One wonders how many more such frauds, the companies in India must be committing to keep their bigger frauds under the veil.
I am not a shareholder of any company and don't even plan to be in near future, but still i feel cheated by this revelation. I feel cheated as i do when I hear about M.P.'s taking bribe for casting their votes in the parliament. I feel cheated as i do when I hear about a public bridge collapsing due to substandard cement used by the contractor. I feel cheated as i do when I hear about a policeman beating an innocent to death for not admitting a false accusation. I feel cheated as i do when I hear about a government in charge inciting communal violence to earn votes in upcoming elections.
Most of us have a tendency to ask for transparency and accountability in the government affairs, hence seeking what is better know as good governance. However, it is the time we realise that good corporate governance is as important as good governance.
Corporate Governance includes the policies and procedures adopted by a company in achieving its objectives in relation to its shareholders, customers and suppliers, regulatory authorities and the community at large.
The provisions like the induction of specified number of independent directors in a listed company has been made to realise good corporate governance. However, the Maytas acquisition controversy makes it clear, that much more needs to be done to fill any gaps left. Moreover, today's revelation asks for stringent regulatory as well as auditory provisions for private enterprises of all hues and colours. Stricter legal provisions and punishments for the defaulters will also act as a deterrent.
Although Mr. Raju claims in his letter that he made no monetary gains out of this fraud, which itself is a hard fact to digest, this does not diminish the gravity of his misdemeanor. Moreover, he will have to face legal action not only in India but also U.S. as his company is listed there too. Mr. Raju ends his letter claiming, "I am now prepared to subject myself to the laws of the land and face the consequences thereof." Government of India should act swiftly to make a strong case against Mr. Raju to send out a tough message to others in the same league and safeguard the global reputation of Corporate India.
As the trading day came to an end, the shares of Satyam Computers had plunged by nearly 80% post-fraud revelation. At the time when the investor confidence is already very low, such incidences can make the job even more difficult for the government and the corporate sector as a whole. One hopes there aren't any more skeletons waiting to tumble out of the Corporate India's cupboard.

Image Courtesy
http://www.adasoftware.com (edited)