Monday, January 25, 2010

The Right to Vote

Indian citizens everywhere should have the right to vote, but the principle of local representation cannot be violated.

EPW Editorial on NRI voting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An unfortunate exclusion

Pakistan’s interior minister made a statement that “India was not serious about the peace process” by the manner in which the cricketers were excluded. Such a conclusion is unwarranted as it does not understand the way the league functions

The decision by franchise owning businessmen to not to pick any of the Pakistani players available in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction for its third season was unfortunate. The IPL franchisee owners clearly did not think much of the feelings of the cricketers who entered the auction process through a circuitous route, after having invited them to the auction and then refusing to choose any of them through the bidding process. It must be heartbreaking for the Pakistani cricketers who are reigning World Twenty20 cricket champions because their humiliating non-inclusion was clearly not because of cricketing reasons. So too, for Pakistani cricket lovers who wanted to partake in the passionate entertainment that the business franchise-based Twenty20 cricket was and which made the IPL so popular across the world and especially in South Asia.

Having said that, one cannot be surprised by the pusillanimous decision by the franchise owners who were worried about visa prospects for the Pakistani cricketers and disruption in the event of a similar incident such as the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. The businesspeople running the IPL franchises are bound by the rationality of profit making, asset maximisation and cost reduction and the prospect of not having players whom they pay for, in the event of any disruptive incident, was daunting for them. If the formal rationality of profit making did not guide their decision, the inclusion of Pakistani cricketers would have made sense. It would have sent a signal to disruptive forces that their actions would not affect cricketing or sporting ties and that the IPL was a celebration of cricketing talent rather than anything else.

This writer had written before that the IPL suffered from the same limitations as would any project within a market driven system. To expect anything more from a commercial enterprise is folly — and therefore to expect the IPL franchise owners to think about the potentiality of a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan by the inclusion of Pakistani cricketers within the IPL fray is unwarranted. At the same time, the reaction by Indian owners of the IPL franchises should not be read as a case of “hyper-patriotism” worked up on the standard India-Pakistan rivalry. If the owners were indeed even a little patriotic and acted according to the needs of the day in India, they would not have responded so grudgingly when the Indian home minister requested them not to hold the IPL season during parliamentary election time in the country last year, after which the IPL commissioner had to take the competition to South Africa.

And that takes us to the larger issue — when Pakistani players were first incorporated into IPL franchises, there was much hailing going on about the IPL and its “revolutionary” potential to transcend national boundaries and of course, its reliance on player talent (both off and on the field) as the sole adjudicator for his value. But as the recent incidents show, the IPL is very much bound by consideration of politics just as much as the stock market rises and falls based on political trends.

There is the insinuation that there is a conspiracy — to prevent Pakistani cricketers from showing their mettle in the IPL — enacted at the levels of government. That is absolutely not true. Since liberalisation, government has only facilitated market based structures in India and has very rarely hindered them with extraneous considerations (even if much needed). Ultimately the IPL franchise owners had a will of their own and which they exercised.

But what of public opinion in either side of the border. While it is legitimate for Pakistani cricket fans — and that would mean a substantial chunk of the population to feel disappointed, nay even angry, at what has come about their cricketers, it is clear that the reaction from the representatives of Pakistan’s government was over-the-top. Pakistan’s interior minister made a statement that “India was not serious about the peace process” by the manner in which the cricketers were excluded. Such a conclusion is unwarranted as it does not understand the way the league functions.

Such is the heightened consciousness for cricket (both playing and spectatorship) in both countries, that the non-inclusion can be seen as a sign of bias and therefore enmity. This is precisely what both the governments, who would will for a normalisation of relations, would want to avoid. The unprecedented support given by fans from both Pakistan and India in 2004 during the bilateral Test series was there for all to see. What the governments can do is to facilitate cricketing competition between these countries in some manner. The government and the sports ministry can definitely weigh in with friendly advice to the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) to hold a bilateral series with a set of One Day, Test and Twenty20 games in the near future in India to assuage the feelings of the cricket lovers and to foster better ties between societies in the countries.

After all, the BCCI is not necessarily a corporate entity concerned only about its bottom-line.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A glorious legacy

Short piece written on Jyoti Basu for "The Sunday Indian" magazine .

The death of Jyoti Basu marked the end of a legendary set of political leaders who were visibly part of the freedom movement. Much of the commentary following his death has primarily focused on his record making 23 years as chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, but what has been rarely discussed is that his political life spanned nearly seven decades - starting as a student activist who joined the Communist movement and aided in the freedom struggle while in England, later immersing himself into working class organising, working in legislature from the young age of 32 after getting elected from the Railway constituency in as early as 1946, building his rudimentary party -which was banned and came out of the same in the early 1950s - into viable opposition to the ruling Congress, and serving as the leader of the opposition for years, working in a coalition government and finally becoming the chief minister of the state. In all his roles that he played in his career - his political positions were remarkably consistent - from opposing what he called the "ultra-left" resolution for an insurrection by the Communist Party just post the independence, to utilise the parliamentary route for mass struggles and combining it with extra-parliamentary work to building a robust and highly penetrative form of three tiered democratic institutions - the Panchayati Raj when in government. In the manner he worked even with his adversaries and in the high praise that he earned for his work both in opposition and in government, Jyoti Basu distinguished himself as a democrat to the core.

Critics - particularly from the urban middle class sections and there are many - have pointed out to the lack of adequate industrialisation of West Bengal during the years Jyoti Basu ruled. The man himself acknowledged some of the shortcomings of his government - he was self-critical of his government's achievements in education and health for example, but seen in the overwhelming light of the achievements made by the CPI(M) led government in tackling rural poverty, food insecurity and rural to urban migration, it can be said with authority that the Jyoti Basu led regime was the most pro-poor among all state governments in the country. The implementation of land reforms - even today 22% of the total land distributed in India has been done in West Bengal and 54.6% of the total beneficiaries in the country were from West Bengal - was the sterling achievement in his legacy as chief minister. As regards industrialisation, the chief minister fought lengthy battles with the Central government over discrimination in clearing industrial projects and managed to build the Haldia Petrochemicals project. Following the liberalisation policies adopted in the Centre, Jyoti Basu seized the opportunity to escape the licence-permit-raj dominated economic system to construct the New Industrial Policy in 1994, but always emphasised that the policy should complement the needs of the urban and rural poor.

In the way he constructed the concept of united and left fronts, in the manner he impressed upon the Congress to build the United Progressive Alliance (the first time that the Congress was running a coalition government) supported by the Left Front from outside and in the way he was consulted by his ideological counterparts such as Rajiv Gandhi (on Panchayati Raj, relations with China), Atal Behari Vajpayee (in the Indo-Bangladesh water sharing treaty), he showed his mettle as a sagacious and wise statesman who was appreciated not just by his fellow compatriots but also by his detractors.

At a time when there is a growing rupture and disconnect between upper/middle class India and lower class, rural India, Jyoti Basu's legacy of an alternate form of government that prioritised the needs of the poor and provided dignity, livelihoods and a much viable existence can be inculcated by our present political class. His uncompromising secular vision, emphasis on building consensus, party discipline, and dedication to work for the other - empowering the marginalised are attributes and characteristics that the young should strive for and adopt even in the much changing world of the 21st century.

Interview with professor P.Sahadevan on the Sri Lankan elections

Did a video interview for with Prof. P.Sahadevan to discuss the Sri Lankan elections and other things some time back.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Discouraging Developments in Sri Lanka

Rather than considering a progressive alternative to the two presidential candidates, incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, the major minority parties and their representatives have thrown their lot with either of the two candidates for short sighted reasons in upcoming presidential elections.

My post on the same in the Newsclick website.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010