Why terror isn’t just the police's problem

on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It should be safe to assume that for a good portion of September, we would have to hear the condemnation of terrorists' and terrorism ad nauseam. We can expect scores of camera-friendly politicians and administrators venturing out to say this in a display of well-positioned eloquence.

But condemning terrorists and terrorism is the handiwork of a tribe which is unable to accomplish their agenda without using these words. And their only aim in saying this is to enlist the support of others who react to the word "terrorist" with trepidation, and helps create a mob mindset, each of whom is united by the fear of a perceived common enemy.

Having done the deed, these politicians and those governing us return home satisfied their day's service to the nation has been achieved.

Point is too many politicians and officials waste too much time talking about issues and not doing anything about them. None of them accepts that if you are unwilling to take decisions - because you don't want someone to dislike you - then its best to retire.

Politicians are supposed to represent people and take decisions. Some wont like the decision, but it's their job to take them. So each time our cities get hit by terror, commandos swarm our streets, railway stations, airports and malls. We get our false sense of security for a few days and things fall back to normal - till the next terrorist strikes. And the charade is then repeated all over again.

We may surely need slogans, rhetoric and condemnation after blasts, as terrorism often has an ideological basis. But the foot-soldiers of such ideological fanatics - who implement the act in our markets and streets and hurt our loved ones - need to be tackled like any other criminal.

Our administrators still haven't understood we need two completely different approaches - one to counter the ideology behind terrorism and the other to tackle the terrorist or the criminal who carries out the act on the ground. They still haven't figured out it may be difficult to change ideological and brainwashed individuals quickly, but it's faster and more practical to create as many hurdles as you can in the path of a terrorist.

So spouting condemnations is wonderful, but can we all get back to office and begin working to make the life of a criminal planting the explosive a bit more difficult?

Criminals look for operational ease in carrying out their act; they work incognito and are equally scared of getting caught. It's the same for terrorists. But the terrain in India is far too easy for them. And hardly provides any sort of a deterrent, both to a petty criminal or a terror module. So let's surely rush to blame the police commissioner, the DGP, the intelligence chief and the home minister each time a blast occurs. But can we also please begin slamming a few more of our gentlemen who rule and govern us?

We can begin by blaming the incompetence and corruption of our municipal bodies, our transport departments, our town planners, the dozens of notaries who sit outside court complexes attesting papers, any paper, our finance ministries, the urban development ministry and the public works department after every blast. And yes, can we also please blame our market associations, NGOs which will resist any regulation of hawking zones and traders? And finally, can we blame ourselves as well, because we are all making the terrorists' job a wee bit too easy?

It's about time politicians and officials (and us) accept they aren't keeping their eyes and minds open and are expecting the police to spot and prevent everything. They can't.

Because the hurdles that a criminal (terrorist) would face in a well managed, well developed, modern and efficient urban city, just aren't there. And these hurdles are created not just by the police, but by an overall sophistication in civic, administrative, and economic management of an urban township.

This is why a criminal faces negligible hurdles in stealing cars to transport men and material to various places as a getaway. In virtually any city, it can be done with child-like ease, because we just don't have enough organized parking lots or spaces. A secure, well checked parking lot makes it a little more difficult for a criminal to steal your car. So, haven't our civic administrators failed to anticipate and provide for the magnitude of the demand for parking? And now shouldn't they share the blame for making a criminal, or a terrorist's job, easier?

And what about us? We, too, park our cars anywhere; cram them in lanes, by-lanes and markets. Isn't that the reason why it's easy for a terrorist's explosive laden car, cycle or two-wheeler to melt in this chaos just about anywhere, undetected and without suspicion? Just think about it.

The chemicals and detonators terrorists' buy to assemble the bomb can be secured as easily, because the authority responsible for regulating its sale isn't making it difficult for a man with nefarious design to secure unlimited quantities. It's possible to buy anything and any amount, if you have the cash. So, why shouldn't we also slam the chemicals and fertilizers ministry, the controller of explosives and the excise department for allowing corruption and sloth to contribute to terror acts?

Walk into any road transport office, and its simple to secure a driving licence without need for any documentation. Getting vehicles registered, ensuring fake identities, entering fake residence proofs for registrations is never an arduous task, again if one has spare cash. Aren't these fake identities the basis on which a terrorist manages a SIM connection for a cell phone? There isn't much of a hurdle for him here either.

So why shouldn't we rush to blame the transport and general district administration offices for abetting terrorism? And why should the notary sitting outside a court complex, who gleefully attests any document as a verified original, not be blamed for the growing threat of terror?

Most Indian cities are congested. In many, it's made worse because hawkers and casual businesses are illegally allowed to set-up their wares on pavements. Traders in most markets manage extensions and set-up temporary counters outside their establishments, adding to the chaos. The remaining spaces are taken up by cycles, two-wheelers and other wares. Somewhere in between are overflowing garbage bins, junk strewn all around it and fruit and vegetable waste thrown just about everywhere.

So, it won't really take several months of training in a Muzaffarabad terror camp to keep a bag containing a bomb in any such public place. Even you and I can do it. So why shouldn't we blame the municipal councillor, the traders' association, the local politician and the civic bodies for aiding terror by allowing physical encroachment and failing to create well managed hawking zones and spaces for hawkers and casual trade?

Why shouldn't civic bodies be held accountable as well for failing to provide well lit, well planned market complexes and roads - for allowing rampant violation of building bye-laws, all of which adds to congestion and thereby reduces the number of hurdles that a terrorist would face in executing his job? Why shouldn't we blame ourselves too, for selfishly taking advantage of such mess?

Terrorism is like prostitution. It won't go away, just because we don't like it and condemn it. Politicians, administrators and we will have to join the policeman, in our bid to frustrate a criminal by making his operating terrain difficult. By using modern, efficient ways of urban planning and maintenance. By insisting on following the rule-book and by cracking down hard on violations of any government guideline. Even if the insistence on the rule is disliked by a few of us. Politicians would need to give up for a few years the temptation of ensuring patronage for rule-breakers, no matter now trivial or insignificant they may be.

Sure, all of it sounds utopian. It's safe to conclude this may never really happen. That it's virtually impossible to achieve this. Fair point! But then lets at least applaud Ram Gopal Verma for the getting the only thing right in the past two years - the opening line of his latest movie, Contract.

It says: "We may ignore terrorism, but terrorism won't ignore us."

Consequently, God forbid, but if we get hit by another terror strike, let's do something which is surely possible. Let's go out and slam the police and the home minister. But can we look at completing the grand slam by adding the urban development minister, the civic chief, the councillor, the transport department, the notary, traders,' ourselves.

‘How do you grieve for your colleagues...’

on Monday, July 28, 2008

The number two at the Indian embassy reminisces on how he had come to Kabul looking for adventure, it was played out at somebody's expense

SANDEEP KUMAR
Deputy Chief of Mission, Indian Embassy, Kabul

AT THE time of the suicide bomb attack on the Indian embassy on July 7, the most potent in the capital since the fall of the Taliban, the clock in my colleague, Venkat’s room, who was blasted in the attack, freezes at 8:27. His room, like most others in the building, is littered with glass and rubble, but the clock remains intact, recording the precise moment of the death. The blast is also recorded at another place: in a wrist watch retrieved from the charred corpse of Brigadier Mehta, the defense advisor at the Embassy. The body is totally unidentifiable, but the watch remains unscratched.

When I make my way to the Embassy, on foot, within minutes of the blast, muscling my way through barricades of police guards along the cordoned off road, clambering over the boulders and rubble, the mangled chasis of the embassy vehicle blown up by a 100-125 kg explosives- laden Toyota Corolla, glaringly blocks the entrance gate, with bloody body parts strewn everywhere. “Which car is that? I ask, incredulous. “Yours. The white land cruiser.” “Who was driving it?” The question, posed in rising hiccups, is in self denial mode. It does not merit a response. “Who were the others in it?” I now need to steady myself against the jagged boulders stacked up by the collapsed reception area.

Blood, sweat and tears: Kabul embassy blast victim being carried away Photo: Reuters

This question proves more difficult than apparent. It takes a while to identify the passengers after determining the head count, and timing the movement of staffers from their residences. The staff is bundled in a small anteroom when the news is broken. Spontaneously we join hands, lean forward in a collective embrace. We rally together in solidarity, know we have to go through this as one family.

That night, as we sit in the Ambassador’s residence, the chilling realisation blows the senses away. It could have been me or anyone else, and everything would have been arranged the same way; just the names would have changed. And in a macabre kind of way, I see through the imaginative eye, that if anything were to happen to me at some point, how exactly it will all be played out, how a special plane will come to carry the body, how and where the body will be embalmed, how colleagues will react, how friends will send emails and SMSs registering their concern and alarm. And, perhaps, the clock in the upstairs office room, not far from Venkat’s, will freeze too.

How do you grieve for colleagues — Venkat, Brigadier Mehta and two security officials — with whom you have spent whole days in adjacent offices? With whom you have shared the trials and tribulations of living in a non-family environment like Kabul’s? You grieve by reaffirming their legacy — by continuing to rebuild a country that they loved. By vowing not to be cowed down by dastardly attacks. By reflecting on the inspiring words of Venkat’s wife when she came to carry home her husband’s body — “I will not cry in Kabul, because I do not want the perpetrators to see us crying, they cannot get the upper hand, we cannot let them succeed.” She had become stone, the grief had momentarily curdled.

How do you grieve for the 60 or so Afghans who also got blasted? For whose families, the world turned upside down in one fraction of a senseless second? As I witness the footage on TV, I am struck that in most cases there is resilience, fortitude and determination.

And, how do you grieve for the fiercely devoted local driver, Niamat? He was my anchor in Kabul. I remember the day when I arrived in this country on a freezing afternoon on December 15, 2008, he was there at the airport to receive me. Thereafter, he steadfastly stayed by my side — until 7/7. The moment I stepped out of my house, he knew exactly where I went, what I did, whom I met. There were no secrets from him. And after a while, I did not want any secrets from him: he became my close confidant, my friend, my brother. If there was any security incident in Kabul on any day, he was the first one I would call, to get an update. Even on that fateful day, while I was waiting for him to come to fetch me, after I heard the thunderous blast and saw the massive plume of smoke rising in the air from the direction of the Embassy, the first person I called was him. The “no network” message flashed ominously on my screen. I would tell everyone that he was the sort of guy who would give his life to protect us. That’s what he did — he took the plunge, made the ultimate sacrifice. When I later reached the Embassy, I just stood next to his charred, wiry body, stripped of all essentials, in a trance, and when no one was watching, reached out to it in salutation with my right hand, and then instinctively brought the hand to my chest — the Afghan way.

There is a six-year old boy, Javed, who stands outside my hotel gate selling chewing gum. These days, Javed is totally bewildered.



He can’t understand why the white land cruiser, with Niamat at the wheel, does not come to fetch me anymore. He asks what has happened to Niamat. I just press his hand tightly in mine and stand beside him mutely. I want to save him the pain, the shock, the confusion. It is at that point that I also realise how difficult it would be for Niamat’s or Venkat’s or Brigadier Mehta’s young children to fathom what happened to their fathers, and why. Or to any children in the world who lose their anchor.

ON NUMEROUS occasions, Niamat had extended an invitation to me to visit his house, in the highest tradition of Afghan hospitality. But I could never get around to doing that. A couple of days ago, I finally perform that journey, now in the form of a pilgrimage. But I necessarily have to undertake it by myself, and it is very lonely. As I enter the rented mud brick dwelling on the outskirts of Kabul, I can sense Niamat’s presence, his spirit hovering in the air. His eight children ranging from four to fifteen are seated in a neat row on a long floor cushion, clasping one another. I am struck by their extraordinary beauty — majestic green eyes, brown hair, and Niamat’s handsomely crafted features, the perfect curve of the nose, the arching eyebrows. Never before have I seen a family with so much convergence in physical features, with so many splendid green eyes, one child genetically spilling over into another in large overdoses. I sense a shiver run down the spine. Quietly, I slide between the kids, who are now crying softly. No sound, just the tears streaming down their cheeks with compelling dignity. Children are not supposed to cry like this; without their knowing, in the turn of a day, they have turned into adults. One by one they come over to me, put out their cheeks for me to kiss and we huddle together. As I step out of the house, still clutching the youngest daughter in my arms, the afternoon sun impaling her head in a golden halo, I sense that Niamat’s spirit is no longer around me. It is firmly embedded within me, and I know it will be my protector and guardian angel during my stay in the country — like Niamat himself was to me in flesh and blood. And I also know that when at some point, there will be a reckoning high above, all the celestial beings will join hands in unanimously applauding the new angels who would have joined them in their abode, with the twinkling of a million stars in the galaxy system.

Later that night, I reminisce to myself that I had come to Afghanistan looking for adventure, for gathering stories, for making memories. I had perversely joked several times with Brigadier Mehta that Afghanistan would be a waste of a posting if no untoward incident were to happen; just a simple kidnapping or a plane hijacking for a couple of days with a safe escape or return (no killings, no injuries, no negotiations, please) would be adequate to provide the needed drama and excitement. Now this was precisely what I had got - full frontal, full blast, relentless, deadly. Except, that in all my jabberings, it was always I myself whom I had placed at centre stage. But in this story, the real life drama had been played out at someone else’s expense.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 30, Dated Aug 02, 2008

The Conscientious Marxist

Braving expulsion and derision, Somnath Chatterjee has set a stirring example of constitutional conduct by rising above party and personal lines, writes SHANTANU GUHA RAY

IN THAT struggle between identity and conscience, More’s position is that a man is defined by his conscience. So, as Lord Chancellor of England, he refuses to put his sanction to his sovereign, Henry VIII’s divorce of his first wife in order to marry another woman. In defence of this principle of personal choice, he resigns, is arrested — and goes to the executioner. It’s a parallel that can be drawn on the point of principle that present day Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has chosen to make. Chatterjee has defied the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) diktat that he resign and vote with his party in the July 22 vote of confidence against the Manmohan Singh Government.

Clearly willing to put himself to the party sword in order to maintain the integrity and bipartisan nature of the speaker’s post, Chatterjee has stood steadfast. And in sacrificing his personal political future, he has risen to the position in a manner seen in few incumbents.

What makes this man, steeped in the culture of the most disciplined party in Indian polity, so openly rebellious of its rulings? For those who know 79-year old Somnathda well, his uncompromising stand is no surprise. That he is an individual thinker is obvious even from the walls of his spartan home — only two frames share space there, portraits of Rabindranath Tagore and Jyoti Basu, both clearly people he idolises. No Vladimir Lenin, no Karl Marx and no Friedrich Engels — the standard icons of Marxist ideology.

But then defiance is a character trait that showed up early in Chatterjee’s nature. His father, Nirmal Chandra, was a president of the Hindu Mahasabha and a confidant of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Despite this pedigree, Chatterjee chose to join the CPM in 1968, an exercise in personal will that has been manifested time and again.

In 1971, he won an interim election — caused by the death of his father, the representative from Bolepur — as an independent supported by the CPM. Subsequently, he’s been re-elected nine times to the Lok Sabha as a CPM candidate, losing just once to Mamata Banerjee in Jadavpur in 1984.

But despite a near four decade association with the CPM, Chatterjee has never been an insider. He is still not a member of the party Politburo — an unlikely possibility now — and was made a member of the Central Committee in the late 90s only on Basu’s insistence.

He is not hated, but the party faithful say that his having a mind of his own — and a brutally frank tongue — creates a big stumbling block. In 1996, when Basu lost his chance to be prime minister, he himself just called the CPM’s refusal to allow him to assume the post a “historic blunder”. It was the much more outspoken Chatterjee who said to anybody who would listen, within the party and in interviews to the media, what a big mistake it had been. He said it was time the Marxists stopped what he called ‘backseat driving’. “Bengal cannot afford to be backroom boys anymore,” he told his friends.

But if he’d been critical of the party hardliners and their propensity to control, he hasn’t spared even those he’s close to—if he’s disagreed with their views. Despite knowing that Basu was a staunch CITU (Confederation of Indian Trade Unions) leader, Chatterjee openly voiced his dislike of the manner in which CITU allowed the closure of jute mills as and when talks failed with the managements. “Closure is the last resort. Take that only when you are left with no option,” he once said.

Sensing his tension with trade union bodies, Basu pushed him as chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC). The energetic Chatterjee immediately began canvassing for private investment in his state: he signed a record 100 plus MoUs with companies for projects. It’s a different matter that nearly 95 percent of them failed — because Chatterjee found little support for his plans within his party. One idea was to get Coal India to establish a big hospital near the Kolkata’s eastern bypass, the peripheral road that connects the airport to the city centre. The idea never got beyond the stone-laying ceremony.

Reverses such as this did not rattle his composure, nor his efforts. In fact, he told his colleagues in WBIDC not to lose heart and to remain in touch with India’s top industrialists. “You need to erase the negative impression the world has about West Bengal,” he’d say. That ability to maintain ideology and understand the need for private investment has not been his only strength. His legal acumen is noted: in 1984, appearing on behalf of the West Bengal government, he won a landmark case in which the Supreme Court declared that the judiciary should not interfere with the country’s election process. The case revolved around whether an election could be stopped because all the voters’ names were not on the list. Chatterjee contended that once started, the election could not be stopped and that in India, it wasn’t mandatory that all voters names be on the list.

His detractors (primarily current West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and state industry minister Nirupam Sen) haven’t wanted to challenge Chatterjee’s prowess in open debate. So they have chosen to marginalise him: they reduced his importance in the party and left him to handle small-time projects in Bolepur.

Chatterjee responded by setting up the Sreeniketan and Santiniketan Development Authority and pushed development projects with the same zeal with which he’d once pursued private capital. And when he drew flak from the party (Leftist author-activist Mahasweta Devi had taken him to court for what she claimed was destruction of Santiniketan’s Khowai, or red sand dunes, by a prominent housing project), he fought the case. It was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Infrastructure is important, Chatterjee told his men in Bolepur, where he set up Geetanjali, arguably West Bengal’s best auditorium, and a state of the art, multi-purpose stadium. “Do not blame me now if you cannot produce classy footballers,” he famously joked.

It’s a simple comment, but it encapsulates his up-front attitude — with him, what you see is what you get. As speaker too — a job for which he was a consensus candidate rather than a direct CPM nominee — his simple reaction to the party whip has been that holding the post meant that he had to be above party politics.

If he’s an unconventional Marxist, there’s little doubt that he is scrupulously honest: his friends recount that when he took up residence at 20, Akbar Road, he discovered that that the norm was that tea, biscuits, phenyl and soap bills were paid from Lok Sabha accounts. “I think I can afford my bathroom expenses. And I can afford a cup of tea for my guests,” said Chatterjee and stopped the practice.

HIS SPEAKERSHIP has not been free of controversy, however: in 2005, Chatterjee was logjammed over his statement that the Supreme Court was encroaching on the right of the legislature by issuing orders on the proceedings of the Jharkhand Assembly. The Opposition also demanded his resignation because he held an office of profit as chairman of the Santiniketan Sriniketan Development Authority. In trademark style, he dismissed the demand, saying since he did not profit from the office, it was baseless.

Today, the pragmatic Marxist is ranged against the hardliners of his own party, even as he’s earned universal praise for his firm stand. There are indications that he will soon put in his papers from the Lok Sabha and, indeed, from the CPM. He’s refused to comment on the future, though people close to him such as his son, Pratap, suggest he will stay away from politics, in Santiniketan.

Visitors to Bolepur will find its red soil blends with the CPM flags fluttering along the road to Santiniketan. But that’s where the party line stops — for Bolepur is Somnath country.

If post July 22, Chatterjee’s future is uncertain, the man himself seems to have no doubt about his own rectitude. And as he held centre stage during the parliamentary debate and trust vote — and is the man to whom the whole country looks for a resolution to the cash for votes drama — it seemed clear that not only is this man a Marxist but a Renaissance man, a man who would question dogma, who would choose principle over party, indeed a man for all seasons. •

Violent religion

on Thursday, July 24, 2008

If lakhs of people were to block all the roads between Haridwar, Delhi and surrounding areas for nearly a month, torch a few dozen trucks, buses, tractors and petrol pumps in retaliation for a few deaths in road accidents, the government would have responded with alacrity and sent in the army. But if these vandals were on a mission of religious piety no political party would dare to interfere.
The ‘kanwaria’ season is upon us again. An estimated seven lakh devotees will block most of the roads from Haridwar to their home towns and villages in a 300-km
radius during the lunar month of Shravan. They are called kanwarias because they carry small pots of Ganga water on their shoulders on a bamboo pole called a ‘kanwar’. For the most part the short pilgrimages are peaceful but the advent of a new custom of ‘dak kanwars’ with groups of running kanwarias who run in relays to quickly get to their destinations is causing serious problems. While one devotee runs with the pots on his shoulder, the rest of his team follows on motorcycles, buses or cars and get violent if their passage is delayed.
For about four weeks, it will be nearly impossible for children to get to school, for mourners to take the ashes of their departed ones for immersion. Ambulances will be virtually immobile and fire brigade, police and other emergency vehicles will find it difficult to operate.
This custom was unknown a decade ago and was transplanted here from a similar practice that began years earlier in Sultanganj in Bihar. This annual migration with its raucous religiosity is a far cry from the quiet spirituality of true religion. The custom has no place in any of the scriptures but is a popular act of public piety in which both the devotees as well as the numerous supporters providing them with food, refreshments and shelter believe that they will gain ‘punya’ or good karma for a better next life.
Professional priests of all religions have for many centuries exploited gullible devotees persuading them that numerous
heavenly or otherworldly rewards would be available to them in exchange for donations, pilgrimages, fasts, sacrifices or austerities. With surprising speed, many new religious customs develop. Soon even the less credulous succumb to the comfort of going with the current.
Paradoxically, such customs were seldom at the command of the sages, prophets or founders of any religion. None of them had asked for temples, mosques or churches, let alone the trappings or demonstrations of religion with sacred robes, triumphant flags, loud music or colourful processions. But power corrupts and the priests of
every faith are easily intoxicated by the power that religiosity gives them. Politicians happily support religiosity that can serve their political agendas. With amazing speed, the social and moral ideas of the founders become lost in an ocean of meaningless rituals and superstitions. Outward form becomes more important than inner substance and religiosity masquerades as religion.
Curiously, it is at this stage of most feverish religiosity that religions have collapsed. History shows that new reformers disgusted with empty rituals, superstitions and the arrogance of priests have appeared to break away from the old order to become the founders of new faiths. Zoroaster and Buddha, disgusted with the sacrifices of the old Avestan and Vedic priests, founded simple new faiths. Jesus, horrified by the excesses of Jewish priests founded Christianity. Muhammad, appalled by the rituals and offerings to 365 idols at Mecca founded Islam.
But the insidious influence of ritual and superstition is difficult to eradicate. Rituals, penances, processions and offerings packaged as joyous distractions cost much less than the effort of understanding and practising the deeper moral, social and philosophical tenets of religion. So populist ritual and superstition have crept into Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other faiths.

Murad Ali Baig

Nuclear power gives energy security

on Monday, July 21, 2008

How important is nuclear power going to be in India’s future? Nobody knows for sure, since the future is full of uncertainties. But the nuclear option is a must for providing energy security.
Manmohan Singh thinks nuclear energy will be absolutely vital for India’s energy future, and he might be right. His critics say nuclear power will never account for more than a fraction of India’s power needs, and will be the most expensive form of power. They may be right too.
Today, the economic viability of nuclear power is far from proven. A detailed MIT analysis in 2003 suggested that nuclear power was distinctly more expensive than power based on coal or natural gas. But since then the prices of fossil fuels have gone through the roof. Many analysts fear that world oil production will soon peak, then plateau, and then decline inexorably. If so, oil will go over $500/barrel, and the prices of coal and natural gas prices will quadruple in tandem. That will make them very expensive for power generation.
Meanwhile, the nuclear power industry argues that economies of scale can substantially reduce the cost of nuclear power. Nuclear power plants have high upfront capital costs, but low running costs. If they are built without cost or time overruns, nuclear
power could be competitive with natural gas even at today’s prices.
In the ’70s, nuclear plants in the US were plagued with huge delays and cost overruns. A third generation nuclear plant, currently being built in Finland, has run into similar problems. Yet, France, which gets three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power, has shown that once production is standardised and plants are built on time, nuclear power is competitive. Fourth generation power plants are now on the drawing board, and could further improve the economics of nuclear power.
Coal is easily the cheapest option for energy. But coal-based pow
er produces massive greenhouse gases, and for that reason may have to be curtailed in future decades. DV Kapur, former power secretary and CEO of NTPC, also points out that various expert committees have judged that India’s extractable coal reserves may not last beyond four decades.
The 2006 Expert Committee on Energy estimated India’s power needs at 960,000 MW by 2031-32, up from 144,000 MW today. This assumed a
GDP growth rate of 9%, which is very optimistic. But if indeed India grows so fast, coal, hydel and non-conventional energy sources will meet at best 75% of India’s needs in 2030, and this proportion will keep declining as coal reserves deplete.
This, says Kapur, leaves an energy gap of 240,000 MW in 2031-32, which is far more than India’s entire installed capacity today. Nuclear energy alone can fill this gap. The gap —
and India’s need for nuclear energy — will keep rising in future decades.
Kapur makes a strong, apolitical case for nuclear power. So do Kalam and several top nuclear scientists. Yet, it is possible that breakthroughs in solar or other forms of energy could make them cheaper and more easily accessible than nuclear power. History shows that technology can change in radical, unpredictable ways.
I will be very happy if solar energy becomes the source of the future. It is available everywhere. It is renewable. It has none of the toxic, military or waste-disposal hazards of nuclear power. Recent advances in solar thermal technology show a lot of
promise. Yet, nobody knows if the technology can be scaled up, work in cloudy countries, or overcome maintenance issues.
In sum, we face messy uncertainty today. Nuclear energy could be our only long-term saviour. But it could also be rendered irrelevant by the advance of solar or other energy sources.
In such circumstances, we need to keep all options open, aim for a mix
of energy sources, and try to be at the leading edge of all technologies. An important but little discussed part of the Indo-US nuclear deal is that it will enable India to participate in the international effort to develop fourthgeneration nuclear power plants.
The Indo-US nuclear deal offers some immediate benefits. Existing nuclear power plants are running at half their rated capacity for want of fuel, and fuel imports will overcome the problem. Dual-use technologies will more easily be importable after the nuclear deal, greatly improving India’s technological access. But it takes up to 10 years to build a greenfield nuclear power plant, so the greatest benefits of a big nuclear push lie far out in the future.
The main case for nuclear power is a long-run one, to provide energy security. India needs to be at the cutting edge of this industry in case other power sources become unviable, making nuclear power absolutely essential. And to be at the cutting edge, India needs the Indo-US nuclear deal to end its technological isolation.
For conventional defence security, we maintain various options at considerable cost. For similar reasons, we need to push ahead with nuclear power, even if the immediate cost-benefit ratio is unclear. It is an essential energy security option for the long run.

-SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR

Chip technology that breaks Moore's law

on Thursday, July 17, 2008




Array-based memory is an evolving solid-state storage technology similar to flash memory but with potentially greater storage capacity. The increased capacity results from the fact that array-based memory is three-dimensional (3D) while most traditional memory and storage media are two-dimensional (2D).

The array-based memory chip employs microscopic probes to read and write the data. Each probe occupies a physical volume with a radius of a few nanometers (nm), where 1 nm = 10-9 m. Engineers at Nanochip, Inc., one of the companies leading the effort to develop array-based memory chips, have built probes with 25 nm radius. They hope to eventually shrink the probes to 2 nm or less in radius, providing storage capacity in excess of 1 terabyte (TB) per chip. The ultimate goal is to develop probes that can transfer data to and from individual atoms in a semiconductor material.

The first array-based memory chips are expected to become available in 2010 with a storage capacity of up to 100 gigabytes (GB) per chip. Potential applications are similar to those of current USB flash drives and solid-state hard drives.

How many historic blunders will our comrades commit?

on Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yesterday Once More

Harbans Mukhia


The story we heard as young students back in the early 1950s was that even as CPI’s student volunteers were marching in a procession against the British regime following the Quit India call by Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Bose, head of the party’s youth brigade went running after them asking them to stop and turn back, shouting: ‘The party line has changed, comrades’! The party itself and its subsequent fragments, including the bigger one — the CPM — have never quite accepted it as a blunder, or even as a minor mistake. Indeed they invariably offer a very laboured explanation of the World War having turned into a ‘people’s war’ with the Soviet Union having intervened on the Allies’ side. Others, however, never let go of an opportunity to remind them of their ‘betrayal’ of the nation at that critical hour. Comrades usually fall silent whenever this reminder is thrown at their face.
Come independence in 1947, and before the celebrations had subsided, the party, then led by B T Ranadive, a 1940s version of Prakash Karat, very learned in Marxist theory, completely unfamiliar with the notion of moderation as well as of practical politics, voiced the slogan: “Yeh azadi jhoothi hai; janata abhi bhi bhookhi hai”. He launched an armed uprising from Telengana to overthrow the bourgeois regime which, according to the party, had been placed in power by the colonial regime in a conspiracy against the rising tide of communist revolution. The uprising was suppressed brutally, as the state always does when faced with a threatening challenge.
The price paid by faithful believers in the call of revolution was massive. But they were ordinary workers, always dispensable for a worthy cause. The leaders were put in jail and released. Even this was never formally acknowledged as a blunder, although the replacement of Ranadive with Ajoy Ghosh and the resolution to participate in parliamentary politics “to help complete the bourgeois democratic revolution” as a step towards
achieving “a people’s democratic revolution” was an implicit admission enough.
Things worked smoothly for a while. So long as workers went on strikes and held gheraos and dharnas and simultaneously party candidates contested elections, the state was not really threatened. Indeed, the state welcomed the absorption of the challenging agency into its fold through election of governments in the states. So complete was the absorption that in the next bout of a serious

challenge from the outside, i.e., the Naxalite movement, the CPI and CPM became its chief targets. Nor need we forget that the only party other than the Congress which wholeheartedly welcomed the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi was the CPI.
But by now a radical metamorphosis of the communist movement in India had occurred: its role would henceforth remain strictly confined to the four walls of parliamentary politics. With coalition politics becoming the new norm, a great opportunity came its
way in 1998 when there was the possibility of Jyoti Basu heading a coalition government. Karat is known to be the one dead set against this happening and succeeded in enacting what Basu later called a “historic blunder”. Basu was not lamenting the denial of the PM’s chair to him; he saw the results of that denial in BJP’s subsequent rise to power for six long years. It was as a corrective to that blunder that he and another ‘practical’ politician in the CPM leadership, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, helped forge a Left-UPA coalition following the 2004 elections.
That coalition is in a shambles now, because Karat, who has learnt his Marxism in a British University and JNU, is obviously unmindful of minor headaches like paving the way for the BJP’s return. Ranadive was fortunate in that he did not have to choose from among many enemies: there was no BJP or its predecessor. The Congress was his single enemy. Karat has made his choice. The Congress still remains his single enemy and if he has to traverse the path in the company of the BJP, so be it. He finds the very communal reason given by Mayawati for denunciation of the nuclear deal as anti-Muslim laudable, even as several highly respected Muslim bodies have refused to link Islam with the nuclear deal.
Nor has he any problem with all the crores Mayawati has made in the past few years. Mayawati’s declared intention — and the practice of it — to capture power and hold on to it regardless of whoever is willing to support her, including the BJP, is of no concern to Karat either. These small details must be ignored for the higher cause of bringing to heel a government, which spent four years accommodating some reasonable and some grossly unreasonable demands placed before it with a “Do it or else” command.
One can imagine the BJP leaders chuckling under their breath about the help the Left is rendering them. If the Left under the leadership of Karat does go all the way and the BJP does stage a return to power at the Centre, there is no doubt that one more senior CPI or CPM leader will call it one more historic blunder, and wait for the next one to happen.
The writer was a professor of history at JNU.

WHAT'S REALLY DANGEROUS IN JAPAN?

on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sex crimes, roving gangs of foreign criminals, leaky nuclear power plants, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes - there sure seems to be a lot to worry about in the Safety Country these days. But as you might imagine, what could happen is rarely as sexy or sensational as what will probably happen. The fact is that death is usually a pretty mundane affair and ending up at room temperature is more often than not the result of those pesky natural causes, not from being blown out of the sky by a shoe bomber or getting gassed by a religious cult in a subway station. For example, the leading causes of ending up on the wrong side of the dirt in Japan in 2002 were as follows:

1: Cancer 2: Heart Disease 3: Cerebrovascular Disease (strokes) 4: Pneumonia 5: Traffic Accidents 6: Suicide 7: Old Age 8: Renal Failure 9: Liver Diseases 10: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases.

Whewc

So instead of getting offed while nailing your best friendfs spouse, the statistics say that you are more likely to bite the big one by engaging in less exciting - yet equally risky behavior. A diet of bento boxes and conbini bought processed food or smoking cigarettes dramatically raises your chances of getting cancer. Eating meat and fatty foods makes it more likely that you will have a heart attack or stroke. Driving in Japan is extremely perilous, as is dodging wayward taxis.

In fact, much of the stuff that seems dangerous is really hype from the media to scare you into paying attention so that you will buy a new brand of dish soap from their advertisers. So for your reading pleasure we have compiled a handy list of the most dangerous places, activities and things in Japan. Enjoy!



CANCER

Thirty percent of deaths in Japan are caused by cancer. Thatfs right, nearly one in three. Itfs the number one killer and of the 1,025,000 people who died in Japan last year, 309,000 of those deaths were attributed to cancer. In 1970, the death rate for cancer was 116.3 per 100,000 people and in 1998 it was 226.6 per 100,000. Thatfs more than double, but cancer rates just donft make the front pages the way that sensational murders and gun violence do. The rise in cancer rates is because of all that second hand smoke people are inhaling, preservative-filled convenience store lunches, air pollution and probably a tad too much Morning Musume.

Danger Factor 10/10

Fun Fact!

The word is that when you get a terminal case of the gBig Ch in Japan, chances are that no one – including your doctor- will want you to know! Instead you will be reassured that bloody cough is a simple cold that will ggo awayh. Of course, it willc.when you die.



OSAKA

Japanfs second city is second to none when it comes to crime. There were 301,913 crimes committed there in 2002, giving it a crime rate of 3.407 per 10,000 people. It not only surpassed Tokyo in terms of its crime rate, but gave it a run for itfs money in terms of actual numbers as well, despite having three million less people. The city is particularly notorious for bag snatchings, train gropers, and stalkers.
Ask people in Osaka what neighbourhood theyfre most afraid to walk alone in at night, and the unanimous answer is Shin Sekai. It has by far the highest proportion of homeless people, and Tennojifs large Chinese population raises racist fears as well. Namba is dangerous just because itfs a big, crowded area with a large red light district, and nearby Daikokucho is famous for its Yakuza and high murder rate.


Osakafs most famous slum is known as Kamagasaki. In fact, Itfs so infamous that it had its name changed to Airin in an order to spruce up its image, but most everyone still refers to it by its old name. A large part of the reason for its bad reputation is the riot that occurred there in 1990. Angry day labourers protested when a police chief was arrested for taking bribes, and 2000 riot police were called in. The protestors, mostly men in their 50fs and 60fs, fought with the riot police using fists and rocks against shields and nightsticks. The violence continued for nine days with hundreds of injuries. According to a Newsweek photographer who covered the riots, 13 deaths occured, but the police deny it. Today, Kamagasaki has more than 30,000 day labourers and as many as 90 yakuza offices.
Another infamous area is the Minami district, which is experiencing an epidemic of bag snatching. There were a record 9,197 cases of hittakuri in Osaka in 2002 and it is likely that the 2003 figures will be even higher when they are released. This map, taken from the Osaka police department's homepage, shows 300 robberies, concentrated mostly around the area between Sakai-Suji and the Hanshin Expressway, just north of the Dotonbori river (a). Nipponbashi is dangerous as well. Den Den town has had relatively few thefts, but the areas East and West (b,c) of the main street are not nearly as safe. Amerika-mura, and the area just North of it (d,e), although not as bad as Nipponbashi, are dangerous as well. Ninety-three percent of hittakuri victims were female and 44% were riding bicycles when they were robbed. Other dangerous areas of Osaka for hittakuri include the Yodogawa area and Ikuno-ward.

The five safest prefectures in terms of crime, by the way, are NagasakiAAkita, Kagoshima, Iwate, and Yamagata.

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CHEMICAL POLLUTION AND DIOXINS

Breathing the air in Japan is almost as dangerous as not breathing at all. Japanfs air has dioxin levels ten times higher than that found in other countries. Japanfs fish are said to contain 10,000 to 100,000 times the one picogram per liter that Japanfs environmental agency says is safe for drinking water. The primary culprit is the burning of plastic such as bento boxes and other garbage that contains chlorine or chlorine-based chemicals in incinerators. Dioxins cause cancer, birth defects, low-sperm counts, skin disorders, diabetes and many more problems.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

If you have been drinking tap water without sufficient filtration, you may be ingesting an abnormally high amount of a class of chemicals which act as synthetic estrogen. Great for guys who want man-breasts and infertility!



FLYING

It may be a cliché, but it bears repeating in these days of air travel scares. Your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in ten million. Of course, so is your chance of getting decent service from the stressed out, angry, overworked and underpaid stewardess. Your chances of dying in a railway accident are about one in a million. Contrast this with the death rate for car accidents in Japan which is 2.438 per 100 people. The upshot is that you have a better chance of being run down by an obasan on her way to a green tea bargain sale than getting popped out of a metal can at 30,000 feet by Bin Laden.

Danger Factor 0/10

Fun Fact!

On July 23, 1999 ANA Flight 61, from Tokyo to Shin-Chitose, Hokkaido, was hijacked by a man who stabbed the pilot to death while the co-pilot was forced to remain outside the cockpit. The man, who had gtrainedh himself using flight simulation games, attempted to fly the Boeing 747-400 under the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo's Minato ward. Literally moments before the plane cratered into metropolitan Tokyo, the co-pilot and two passengers broke into the cockpit and overpowered the hijacker!



HANKYU ROKKO STATION, KOBE

The area around Hankyu Rokko station is an upscale, quiet neighbourhood where residents enjoy beautiful views of both mountains and the ocean. The crime rate is very low, and itfs common knowledge that houses higher up in the mountains survived the earthquake when buildings lower down were completely destroyed. So whatfs dangerous there? Rokko is home to Japanfs most notorious gangster and local residents have learned that itfs not a good idea to complain about the illegally parked Mercedes Benzes in the neighbourhood or pay much attention pinkie-finger challenged members of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang members visiting Yoshinori Watanabefs house.

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DRINKING AND SMOKING:

While it may help you survive a weekend at your in-laws, simulate the feeling of warmth in your frosty one-room apaato, and help you forget who you slept with last night - heavy drinking has nasty side-effects like liver damage, cancer, stomach problems, impotence, obesity and heart disease. Not to be outdone, smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, bad breath and a slew of other horrible, slow to kill you yet enormously painful illnesses. Shockingly the gSmokin Cleanh government-controlled Japan Tobacco corporation still refuses to admit that puffing away on the evil weed is dangerous and even have the gall to say that g[There isnft] any conclusive scientific evidence directly linking smoking and cancer and serious illnesses.h

Factor 8/10



MAD COW DISEASE and SARS

No humans have ever come down with Mad Cow Disease in Japan, and even in Britain, where the mad cow eepidemicf has been raging for years, the death toll is still under 200, meaning that your chances of dying from the condition are less than your odds of being struck by lightning. Go ahead and visit Hong Kong or enjoy that yakiniku. While it is true that Mad Cow Disease and SARS are serious problems that the government and Japanfs regulatory agencies must deal with, the chances are that you will never come into contact with them.

Danger Factor 0/10

Fun Fact!

Until recently, American gdowner cattleh that couldnft walk were regularly gprocessedh along with healthy animals. Japan was a major importer of beef from America until those devious Canadians slipped an infected animal into the USAfs food supply.


FUKUOKA

Kyushu is mostly known for its hot springs, bucolic beauty and yummy ramen, but somewhere along the line Fukuoka prefecture also managed to become the second most dangerous place in Japan. The red light district of Yoshizuka is known as the most dangerous area in the city, but the neighbouring city of Kita Kyushu and the Chikuho region are perhaps more infamous. They were hard hit by the closures of the regionfs coal mines in the 1960fs and have had extremely high rates of joblessness, poverty, drug abuse, and the highest youth crime rate in the country since then. Not surprisingly, these areas have some of the highest yakuza populations in the country as well. Strangely, Japanfs second most dangerous prefecture is right next to Nagasaki, the safest place in Japan.



VOLCANOES

While they are really cool to look at, volcanoes have been known to bury whole civilizations in molten lava while they were knocking away in their beds doing the nasty. Sadly for thrill seekers, the possibility of losing your life to a volcano is pretty slim. There are always warning signs for the scientists to pick up on so hardly anyone is killed by them anymore. In terms of property damage and harm to local economies, theyfre pretty dangerous, however.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

Were Mt. Fuji to experience a major eruption, most, if not all vending machines along the route to the summit would be incinerated.



CULTS AND TERRORISM

When an insane cult called Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on the Tokyo subways,12 people were killed and several thousand were injured. Many people say that March 20th, 1995 was the day the esafety countryf died and it certainly caused a lot of people to question whether their country was safe anymore. Unless some other bizarre death cult springs up, it doesnft seem likely that there will be any attacks here. Japanfs immigration policies may be racist and unfair, but they do make life difficult for Islamic terrorists. Your chances of being killed in a terrorist incident are negligible.

Danger Factor 1/10

Fun Fact!

Panawave is a Japanese doomsday cult whose members cover everything in sight with white fabric which they believe will protect them from "harmful electromagnetic waves" being showered on them by communist terrorists. They freaked out the entire population of Fukui last spring when they road tripped through the prefecture in a convoy of white vans. Police finally got them to go away by citing them with violations of the Road Traffic Law.



KABUKI-CHO

Surprisingly, Tokyofs crime rate is much lower than that of other major cities (It ranks sixth in Japan with 2.487 crimes per 10,000 people). However, the famous red light district of Kabukicho is known nationwide as the raunchiest, rowdiest, most dangerous nightlife area in Japan. From Yakuza gang wars to the Chinese Mafia to deadly fires to street crime to bombings, there are more dangers here than you can shake a stick at. As the name indicates, Kabukicho was supposed to be a cultural district, and there were plan to build a theatre there after the neighbourhood was destroyed in World War Two, but the American GIfs who came there were interested in different entertainments, and sex businesses thrived there instead. There are about 30 yakuza gangs active in the area, 2000 yakuza, and an estimated 6000 illegal aliens. There were more than 1,900 crimes committed in Kabuki-chofs 600 square meters, more than 60 times the Tokyo average. As bad as Kabukicho is, nearby Shin-Okubo (aka Sin Okubo) is even sleazier, far more rundown, and is known for its foreign prostitutes.

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NORTH KOREA

North Korea is dangerous. They have long range missiles that can strike Japan and no one knows for sure how close they are to getting the bomb. They have actually "test fired" a missile which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific causing a collective ring hole tightening of the entire Japanese populace. The good news is that if there is a war, it seems likely that most of their attention will be directed at South Korea so Japan isnft likely to get more than a few stray missiles.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who is threatening to make and use nuclear weapons, is considered by many to be one of the most dangerously psychotic leaders in the world today. He is also an action film buff, who once engineered the kidnapping of a South Korean director whom he wanted to grecruith to help him make movies in his spare time.



DRIVING

Car accidents were the fifth leading cause of death in the year 2003. Although the roads are getting safer thanks to anti-drunk driving campaigns and tougher penalties for reckless driving, driving a car on Japanfs roads is infinitely more dangerous than skydiving, eating mochi, or living in Afghanistan.

Danger Factor 7/10



EARTHQUAKES

Earthquakes are perhaps the scariest natural disaster because they are so unpredictable and because therefs nowhere to run when they hit.

Danger factor: 3/10

Fun Fact!

The Japanese use the Shindo scale instead of the Richter scale to measure earthquakes. This scale measures how a quake feels in certain locations, not just the intensity of the shock wave at the epicenter.



TYPHOONS

Japan is hit by about 30 typhoons every year, and most of them seem to come ashore in Kyushu and Okinawa. The traditional typhoons season is between September and October, but unusually strong typhoons are becoming more and more common at other times of the year as well. Because of advances in weather forecasting and storm tracking, few people are killed by them, but they do millions of dollars worth of damage every year.

Danger factor: 4/10



NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS

A nuclear accident at the Tokai nuclear power plant in 1999 killed two workers and released radiation into the surrounding area, exposing workers in a nearby factory and several houses near the plant to high levels of radiation. Since then, Japanfs nuclear industry has been plagued by safety problems as their plants have been found do contain many safety violations and cover-ups in the industry have been exposed. Nuclear accidents are scary and if a large one on the scale of Chernobyl took place it would be a major disaster since a lot of the countryfs plants are located near densely populated areas (Tokaimura was only 110km from Tokyo). At a time when other countries are shifting away from nuclear power, Japan is continuing to rely on it. However, the chances of dying in a nuclear accident are minute. In several decades of nuclear power use, a grand total of two people have been killed and several hundred exposed to small (although not insignificant) doses of radiation, meaning that although nuclear power safety is a serious public issue in need of debate, there is little need for the average person to worry about actually dying in a nuclear disaster. Danger factor: 1/10

Fun Fact!

Fast breeder reactors like the one at the Monju Nuclear Plant are especially vulnerable to earthquakes since the high heat generated by the reactor requires that pipes be bent to absorb expansion and shrinking. The Monju plant is a fast breeder reactor which uses water as a source of coolant, and sodium to cool the reactor and transfer the heat for electricity generation. Sodium burns and explodes when it comes into contact with air and water. In Monju, the pipe walls separating the sodium from the water are less than 4mm thick! Even more exciting is the fact that the Monju reactor is located in an active seismic zone!



FUGU

No discussion of danger Japan would be complete without mentioning Fugu, the poisonous blowfish, aka, "The Fish Of Death." Every year about five or six previously healthy people eat it at their last supper, most of them amateur chefs. Within about three to 30 minutes of eating fugu tainted with poison, victims show symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, a tingling tongue and mouth, nausea, diarrhea, sweating and a loss of their previously adventurous appetite. Soon paralysis spreads through the body while (and this is the good part) the victim remains completely conscious. This is followed by convulsions during which breathing is constricted. A person can die of respiratory failure in about six to 24 hours, depending on the amount of toxin consumed. These minor complaints aside, they say it is really tasty stuff!

Fun Fact!

Every New Years the newscasts are full of stories related to the mochi death toll, caused when elderly or drunk people attempting to eat mochi who instead end up choking to death on the sticky rice cakes. So far this year mochi has taken down six people.


MOUNT FUJI

The last time it erupted was 1707, but that doesnft mean itfs not going to happen again. There have been a lot more earthquakes than usual in the area around Mt. Fuji and steam was found coming out of the side of the mountain last year. Although officials are downplaying the danger, at the same time, a hazard map is being drawn up and disaster preparedness plans are being created by local governments in the area. An eruption would threaten some 12 million people and could cause 21 billion dollars of damage. Some of Japanfs most popular sight-seeing spots are potential death-traps as well. Hot springs are the result of geo-thermal activity near the surface of the earth, so visiting an onsen almost always means increasing your chances of being killed by an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

-By Ed Jacob

Birthday Bonanza

on Monday, July 14, 2008

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi gives people in his state a birthday gift — economy meals in hotels at Rs 20, reports PC VINOJ KUMAR

Last month, 60-year old Dhanalakshmi, who works in a Bombay Dyeing showroom in Mylapore, began eating lunch at the nearby Sangeetha Hotel. She would get a limited South Indian meal of 300 gm rice, 100 gm each of sambar, rasam and butter milk, two vegetable dishes of 75 grams each and some pickles—for just Rs 20. “It is sumptuous and the quality is top class,” says Dhanalakshmi.

The quality comment is unsurprising, because the Sangeetha chain is known for consistent quality: what is incredible is the price. Earlier, a meal with about 450 gm of rice at the same hotel cost Rs 35. Customers like her simply could not afford that and would have to settle for something lighter like a dosa (at Rs 20). It was not filling, but there was no choice. “I couldn’t afford the meals,” she says.

The concept is a birthday present for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi: a scheme by which hotel owners in the state offer an ‘economy meal’, for the benefit of poor and middle class customers. Negotiated by the state government to beat inflation induced hikes in meal costs, the subsidised meal scheme was launched on June 3, Karunanidhi’s 85th birthday.

For the DMK government, the Rs 20 meal is the latest in a series of populist moves following its Rs 2 per kg rice, free land, colour televisions and gas stove schemes: another present from the DMK supremo to his adoring public.

Rovin Raj, a 25 year old software engineer, tucks into the meal on a humid afternoon at Hotel Rusi in Adyar. “I have been taking this since it was introduced,” he says. For Jayachandran, a 23 year old accountant in a private firm, it is the blend of “good food and the right price” that has got him hooked to the Rs 20 meal.

However, the hotel owners are not as happy: many hotels do not display prominently the availability of such meals, and had only reluctantly agreed to the idea after several rounds of negotiations with the government.

It all began after reports appeared in the media that hotels had hiked up the cost of various food items. State Food Minister A V Velu held discussions with representatives of the Hotel Owners’ Association and urged them to roll back the price hike, at least for a few popular dishes such as idli, pongal, dosa, vadai and tea.

Hotel owners demanded the government provide them some concessions. “We expressed our difficulties at cutting the prices. Till a decade ago, the electricity charges for hotels were low. But now we are paying commercial tariffs, which are almost double the industrial tariffs. We wanted hotels too to be charged under industrial tariffs, but the government did not accept our demands,” says R Srinivasan, the association’s secretary and proprietor of Vasan Tiffin Home in Madurai.

After some hard bargaining, the hotels decided to slash the prices of selected items by 10 to 15 percent. They also agreed to introduce the Rs 20 meal all over the state. Initially, the quantity of rice was fixed at 250 gm, but later it was increased to 300 gm, following complaints from customers that the quantity was insufficient.

Many owners now wonder if they can continue to provide the meal at the current price, given the escalating prices of foodgrains, vegetables and cooking gas. Says P Rajagopal, proprietor of the Sangeetha group, “The price of commercial cooking gas has been hiked several times in the last few months. It has gone up from Rs 850 for a 17 kg cylinder to Rs 1105. We are finding it difficult to cope with the situation.”

Whether or not the Rs 20 meal scheme lasts, there’s little doubt that at present, it’s keeping voters satiated. What was that old saw, about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach?



Posted on July 11, 2008

The Soldier’s Soldier

on Tuesday, July 8, 2008


MAJOR GENERAL ASHOK KUMAR MEHTA remembers ‘Sam Bahadur’ as an officer and a gentleman, a gallant showman and a fearless soldier

I KNOW NOTHING about war fighting. The only fighting I knew was what I learnt from my wife, Silloo. She died two years ago.” That was in 2004. This is the kind of selfdeprecating stuff India’s most celebrated soldier and first Field Marshal was famous for in the twilight of his life.

Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw gave India its first military victory in 1971, in a campaign planned with impeccable politico-military detail. India’s most memorable hour in the 20th century has become synonymous with this man.

He acquired his nom de plume thanks to a Gorkha from his regiment, Harka Bahadur. His long nose sticking out way beyond his curled moustache, Manekshaw asked, “What’s my name?” Completely stumped, Harka Bahadur belted out, ‘‘Sam Bahadur”. And so he was christened.

When he died last week at 94, he left behind two happily married daughters, three grandsons and a platoon of retired soldiers, mostly adopted Gorkhas looking after him, his Stavka home in Coonoor, in the Nilgiris, and an animal farm. After retiring from the corporate world, he seldom left the Nilgiris, preferring his own company and that of the Gorkhas to the “unmitigated boredom of uninvited visitors”.

On his 90th birthday, at the Battle Honours Mess in Delhi, surrounded by admirers and well-wishers, he admitted to having misused a khukri — the renowned Gorkha knife traditionally used to sever enemy heads. He used it to cut the chocolate cake with 90 candles on it. When asked what his life’s greatest achievement was, he replied, “I never punished anyone.”

Sam’s most enviable quality was leadership, and it made him India’s first soldier’s soldier. He could interact as easily with Rifleman Harka Bahadur as with Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram or Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Once, at a presidential banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he had walked up to Indira Gandhi and told her, “You look most beautiful tonight”. She smiled and said, “Thank you Sam.” At parties he would make a beeline for young officers and their wives, charming them with jokes and anecdotes, mostly about stuffy politicians, whom he loathed. On one occasion he had to explain to Jagjivan Ram the difference between a gun and a howitzer, and between a gorilla and a guerilla.

Sam was a showman. He planned, even rehearsed, all his displays. During the 1971 war, he would be dutifully seen at the Oberoi Hotel’s bar in Delhi, in the hope of attracting the foreign media. The Reuters correspondent wrote that the Indian Army Chief was so confident of the outcome of the war, that he spent most of his time drinking single malt. But the truth was that Sam would rush back to the war room to review the battle, and even sleep there.

He was fearless. During the Burma campaign in World War II, as a young Captain with 4/13 Frontier Force Regiment, he led a bayonet charge against the Japanese army across the Sittang River in 1942 and took a hail of bullets in his stomach. Refusing to be evacuated, he led his company from the front. For his outstanding act of bravery he was awarded an instant Military Cross. Once, he pulled out his shirt to show his bullet-scarred six-pack.

Though larger than life, Sam Manekshaw could not escape controversies. A memorable one was the interview he gave to a journalist in London, after the 1971 war. He said that, had he joined Pakistan after Partition, India would have been defeated. Although he said it in jest, he was pulled up in Parliament for his unpatriotic remark, and was never quite forgiven.

He never contradicted his critics who challenged his claim that Dhaka was the objective of the war. He was a fabulously lucky commander and once told me that luck and Harka Bahadur (meaning the good wishes of the Gorkhas) were responsible for his success. Field Marshal Sam Bahadur Manekshaw will be remembered as an officer and a true gentleman. He deserved a better farewell than the one he got from his country.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 27, Dated July 12, 2008