Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pondering Without Purpose - The Philosophy of Consequence !!

Being lost is a state of mind. The reality is we are all lost. No matter what state of consciousness one is spiritual, material, metaphysical or whatever it is that you call it, the fact is that we are searching for something. If we find peace we will search for more peace and greater peace. Human beings can never exist in an unchanging, absolute state of being. The motion less is dead whether it’s the mind or the body and to find movement is to change the state of being and the force for the change is to search for something.

Think about it for a bit, when we search for a restaurant we are searching for a something that we want out of it. When we find the restaurant we are searching for something we get after we reach there and then we search for the next thing. In being still for instance we will search for what it is to be still. When the body is not physically searching the mind will be. The end to the state of searching is the end to life itself.

The trouble begins when we resist this state of searching. It’s like damming the flow of a river. A river is meant to flow to the sea and when it doesn’t it’s a lake or whatever else that you wish to call it but not a river. So the beginning of any journey is to realise that there is nothing absolute and the human mind is like a river which flows.

But if life was meant to be what it is then why begin any journey, why not let primal instincts play their role and let the body do whatever it is the mind wants and let the mind have no conditioning and think whatever it does. There are rules to every game and yes these are rules we put on ourselves. Staying within the realm of morality would mean staying within the realm of what is right and what is wrong and when you stay within that realm there are things you can or cannot do. In my state of existence there is still no answer to going beyond the realm of right and wrong. I can go beyond that but if I do I think it will lead to anarchy and the fear of chaos is the reason I can’t.

So can I be at peace with myself despite having to stay within the morality of right and wrong. One of the thoughts that have been thrown at me is that there is no right and no wrong. It’s all about actions and consequences. If we see a particular set of consequences for an action and if those consequences seem detrimental to my interests then I don’t perform that action and if the consequences seem acceptable then I perform. It seems plausible but it still cannot sink in completely.

The more I try to think of my actions and my understanding of right and wrong the more I begin to understand the action – consequence theory. Putting it into practice and trying to smear it over the life is like a river thought gives me some sense of relief. If I let life flow the way it is then there will be a set of consequences and if I make an effort to alter the flow then there are some consequences and so I let life flow at times and alter the course at times.

And at this moment I am just letting thoughts flow into words and beginning to realise the consequences. The boss is looking on wondering when he will stop jabbering and begin working ….that thought definitely has severe consequences and hence the thoughts are dammed. !!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Dam and a Nuclear Power Plant - The Conspiracy Connection !!

Whenever a water dispute erupts between two states it often takes very bizarre proportions and in the midst of state pride, regional sentiment, legal complications and political rhetoric the reality gets clouded beyond recovery. Mullaiperiyar is no different.

What’s interesting is that the Mullaiperiyar dispute does not fit the definition of a water dispute at all. A water dispute is between two states or parties over the quantum of water released by the upper riparian state to the lower. Like in the case of Cauvery, Godavari or even the Indo-pak dispute over the Indus. In the case of Mullaiperiyar the dispute is over the existence of a dam. Kerala is a water rich state and does not want water from the Periyar River. It’s willing to give as much as Tamil Nadu wants.

Kerala says ‘safety’ is the key. In the past it had raised the issue of ‘safety’ of the 116 year old dam and had wanted water storage levels reduced. In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled in Tamil Nadu’s favour and after safety audits ordered that the dam is safe to hold 142 feet of water compared to the present 136. Kerala doesn’t need the additional water that Tamil Nadu hold’s in the dam but yet is opposing an increase in storage levels and the reason for that opposition is not water but land.

While Kerala is a water surplus state it’s uncomfortable with the large tracts of land (8000 acres) that are submerged in the Mullaiperiyar’s catchment area. Most of this land is Kerala’s and an increase in water storage would mean more land would be submerged. Instead if a new dam is built down stream then several thousand acres of Kerala’s land would be relieved of water and can be a gold mine for the state. So this dispute from Kerala’s point of view is about land and not water.

From Tamil Nadu’s point of view it needs the water for irrigation and drinking water needs in four southern districts. Building a new dam down stream would mean land in Tamil Nadu would be submerged and the state feels that it is an unnecessary waste of resources and could result in uncertainty over water. It’s also been turned into an issue of political pride over the last decade.

This is pretty much the history of the dispute, it’s not been an emotive war, except in 2006 when the Supreme Court ruled in Tamil Nadu’s favour and Kerala virtually overruled the verdict with a “Dam Safety Act”. What’s interesting is that the issue of the dam’s safety suddenly re-erupted, ostensibly because of tremors in the Idukki region. Kerala suddenly stepped up the political momentum on ‘safety’, Jayalalithaa responded and both states have now taken the issue to the prime minister. But why did the issue erupt suddenly?

A few hundred kilometres away from the dam is the site for the Koodankulam Nuclear power plant. The centre’s been trying to negate anti nuclear protestors there campaigning against the project on the ‘safety’ plank. The centre sought Jayalalithaa’s support in controlling the protests at Koodankulam, but the Tamil Nadu CM, miffed by the centre not treating her ‘special’ refused to help. Remember, without the state government’s help negating the Koodankulam protests will be impossible, and the PM’s dream nuclear power project could face uncertainty.

Some political observers are now seeing a link between the sudden eruption of the Mullaiperiyar issue and the Koodankulam stand off. They may be conspiracy theorists, but their logic seems plausible. They believe Congress led UDF ruled Kerala has systematically raised the Mullaiperiyar issue to counter Jayalalithaa’s non cooperation with the centre in handling the protests in Koodandkulam. The dam dispute has now created a situation where Jaya ruled Tamil Nadu needs the centre’s help in negating the matter. This puts pressure on the Tamil Nadu government to co operate with the centre on the Koodankulam issue. It's virtually given the centre a tough handle on Jayalalithaa when it negotiates with her for help to defeat protestors at the nuclear power plant.

But if this is true it also creates the anvil for a precarious situation. If the two states overplay the issue it could become politically impossible to handle. And if it’s not dealt with tact it could result in creating uncertainty over a 116 year old dam and a state of the art Nuclear power plant. The fear is political egos could result in a large loss for the nation as a whole.

This may be dismissed as ‘paranoia’ by some and ‘conspiracy theory’ by others. But there are some who believe that this reflects the inability of Indian politicians to rise above their political egos and build a consensus. The key with Mullaiperiyar is it’s not a dispute over water. Both states have a case and it’s not like other water disputes where a solution seems impossible, raising the political temperature will only make it one more in our long list of emotive, idiotic and unmanageable inter state disputes. Sadly even the Supreme Court orders and the larger good of the nation have been defeated by regional political rhetoric and egos of our political personalities. The effort should be to ensure that a dam and a nuclear power plant do not fall victim to this self destructive course of our political landscape.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The child on a street.

The water is pouring from the skies.
their body is wet,
But there's no moistness in their eyes
I try to feel their life of blood and sweat
But my heart must have frozen like ice.
In a day I see them just once twice or thrice.
and then I retreat to my life full of lies.

On my windscreen and my window they knock.
the thougt of my offering makes them flock.
The light turns from red turns to green
And I diassper into life in a fast lane,
But day after day the scene remains the same.

Their life it seems is an unopened lock.
No one to guide them to a key,
No one to help them see.
Their Childhood robbed, their future clogged.

If God was true then why were they born,
to suffer a life of indignity and burn.
If he doesn't exist then who can I blame
Do I question a nation and it's fame
or Do I retreat that it's a shame

Why do I have what I do, why do they live the way they do.
I have a child their same age,
to him the world doesn't seem like a cage.
When they see him will their hearts not fill with rage ?
How can we write their lives on the same page.
In the act of a nation will they remain at the same stage
Why act, why write our history, if we cnnot make their life change.

(inspired by an unknown child begging for alms on a rainy day. Rain or sun I see her everyday. Can I do something to change her life ?. Will I do anything to change her life?. I don't know)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How and Why Money matters in an election?

There's been quite a lot of talk about the distribution of money by the DMK in the Tamil Nadu election. The allegations against the ruling party are largely true and despite the Election Commission's crackdown money did flow to the voter, choked by the crack down, but it did reach the voter. The question really is can the money change the outcome of an election where nearly 80 percent of the nearly five core voters cast their vote. Many analysts feel that focusing on money distribution as the only reason for an electoral victory is an insult to the electorate's sensibilities, yes that's true but that argument cannot discount the fact that cash to the voter is decisively changing the electoral dynamics at least in specific states. If it doesn't help then no politician will distribute tons of stolen money to the voter.

The Congress under the late YSR Reddy managed an election with enormous money in 2009 and won it , The BJP galvanized by the Reddy brothers in Karnataka did it in 2008 and the DMK showed the two national parties how it's done in Tamil Nadu in the 2009 lok sabha polls. Since the focus now is on Tamil Nadu I am going to attempt explaining why the strategic distribution of money can have an impact on the Dravidian electoral outcome. The confidence exhibited by the DMK (every senior leader claims the alliance will get 130 to 150 seats) after polling is largely because of the money they spent. I am not Nira Radia, but, if my phone was tapped then I am confident there would be proof of this straight from the mouth of the several horses that ran the Tamil race!

Tamil Nadu is a highly politicised state driven by strong political leanings and views. The DMK voter (around 27 -28 percent) will vote for the DMK no matter what and same is the case with the AIADMK (around 32-33 percent). Other political forces like the congress, PMK, etc also have a consolidated caste vote that by and large is transferrable and this ranges from (2 or 3 percent to 9 or 10 percent depending on the party). It's the sum total of the vote share of an alliance that is called arithmetic and whichever Dravidian party has managed an alliance with the larger sum total has won an election since 1991. Even in huge wave elections like in 1996 and 2004 against Jayalalithaa, she was able to retain her committed vote and the alliance arithmetic was better with her rival. So the bet is that this committed voter will not change his vote even if he receives money.

Beyond the committed voter lies the silent, non aligned voter whose share was anywhere between five to ten percent and if this section voted in one block then it meant a massive sweep. This section normally voted in one block only when it was incensed and angry with the government that existed. The defining feature of this section is that it is largely unhappy with both sides and yet chooses one over the other. There is no empirical evidence to prove that this section takes money and actually votes for the party which pays them the higher amount, but it is a matter of wide belief in the political class that those who have taken money do vote for the party which "bribed" them. In an election where the electoral arithmetic is close then if two or three percent of the undecided voters go in favour of one formation it can seal the deal. The other section which can change with the money game is the section in the opposition's rank and file that is disgruntled. Disgruntlement is usually over the choice of the candidate and this section can be lured to change its choice with money.

One of the reasons given by grass root party workers for the high turnout (close to 80 percent) this time is that voters have realized that parties pay only those who go out to vote. They also ensure that the promised freebees are delivered to those who have cast their vote and those who don't get ink on their finger fall back on the queue. In the 2009 lok sabha polls when the DMK-Congress combine won the turn out was a high 74 percent and hence a high turnout does not mean an anti establishment vote. It only means that many voters have decided to come out to vote for a range of reasons and one of those could be that there is an immediate gratification for exercising their franchise. I am not accusing people of selling their votes but unfortunately money does become a reason for the decision taken by a section of the electorate and that fact needs to be accepted.

When you walk into a locality at election time the first talk you hear is about who has given how much money has been delivered or promised - not about the state of roads, power or water. Unless the issue is really stark and grave money has taken precedence. The defining moment was when the voter asks you "What's wrong for the next five years I will have to pay but now I will make them pay". The rates are defined and I am told in these elections it ranged from 500 to 2000 rupees per vote depending on the profile of the candidate and at a campaign Jayalalithaa even remarked "take the money from the DMK, it is your money that they are giving back, just remember to vote for us" and one of those campaigning for her director Seeman told a gathering "Take the money from the DMK, put five rupees from it in the temple hundi and then vote for Amma - God will forgive you for cheating the DMK !!!". It may be disgusting to urban, erudite sensibilities but it is the reality. There is a sense of guilt in not voting which has given you money.

In a careful assessment the offer of free bees is an institutional, legal and official example of how an electorate can be made to vote on the basis of material gratification rather than larger ideological and political issues. If the voter can legally and publicly vote on the basis of a free mixer, grinder or colour TV set then why would he or she not vote on the basis of a few thousand rupees illegally and discreetly delivered to him. The Politicians who have fought an election believe that money is proving to be decisive and those who cannot spend money are now left with the hope that it may not be a long term trend.

So no matter what anyone may say money matters. It cannot swing an election across the board but it does swing a percentage of the voter and that percentage does have an impact on the big picture. IF the DMK wins this election then it means money continues to matter and has played a decisive role. Analysts can try but I am not sure if anyone can offer any other practical rational and plausible reason for a victory amidst such resentment ranging from power cuts and price rise to corruption. You may ask what about the election commission's crack down. Yes they did a fantastic job but remember the politician knows how to get to the voter despite the curbs!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Dravidian Syndrome (Vijayakanth versus Congress; 2 G versus Free Colour TV)

I can't help point out that the results in the spate of Assembly elections we are about to witness will be on Friday the 13th of May. I am not much of believer in superstition but politicians are. Jayalalithaa especially is. To her this election is no less of an exorcism of DMK rule in Tamil Nadu and I wonder how she feels about the Friday the 13th. I guess we will find out only after the results, but, till then it's all about speculation and analysis - some credible and others incredible. I write mine and hope it's less incredible and more credible!

Since 1991, the side the Congress party has supported has won. Except in 1998 when Moopanar went on his own and the Congress was a non-entity. Enter 2011 and do we have an alternative to the Congress in the form of a third force, the one that tilts the balance in the J versus K battle?

Vijayakanth was a popular actor when I was in school, he is called captain after a super-hit film Captain Prabhakaran (not about the dead LTTE chief). He was never a superstar like a Rajinikanth or a Chiranjeevi, but someone who had a very strong rural connect and he has now proven that he can sustain himself in politics. His party got 8.3 per cent in the 2006 assembly elections, 11 per cent in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. His political plank was being the alternative to J and K and even if he seemed like not a great option he still got the votes but not enough to win seats. Jayalalithaa tried to break the Congress DMK alliance and failed, now she hopes Vijayakanth can negate a traditionally strong Cong, DMK, PMK alliance. The coming election will be as much about answering the Vijayakanth strength question as it is about other issues.

Amongst the other issues, the one that's dominated the media mind space is the 2G scam. All assessments from the ground reveal that 2G and corruption will be an issue, but only in urban centers. It's so much of an issue in urban centers that the DMK may not want to contest in many seats in its traditional stronghold Chennai. Karunanidhi may be contesting from rural Thiruvarur. In 2006 the AIADMK had started winning Chennai and in 2011 it may reassert its position in the metropolis. But in rural Tamil Nadu, it's the DMK's scheme like the free colour TV that's working in the party's favour. There is a feeling that the DMK will do well in the rural areas because of a populist government which delivered the goods it promised to a large extent.

The joke going around though is that Karunanidhi gave people free colour TV on which they got to see the full colour of the 2G scam! But jokes apart, the shift in the rural versus urban strongholds is extremely interesting. It was MGR who was always strong in rural areas and Karunanidhi's DMK in urban centers. But that's now gone for a complete toss. One DMK MP put it jocularly that in 2011 "Karunanidhi has become the populist MGR and Jayalalithaa has become the urban Karunanidhi!"

In terms of electoral arithmetic, it is a North Tamil Nadu versus South Tamil Nadu battle. The DMK has been traditionally strong in the northern parts of the state. Its alliance with the PMK and VCK augments that strength; both Thirumavalavan and Ramadass have their strength only in Northern parts of the state. And the alliance is expected to work in the elections. On the other hand, the AIADMK has always been strong in the south, and has finalised an alliance with smaller parties which will give it an edge in the south. In the deep south areas near Kanyakumari, the Congress has a hold and should retain its own if the DMK alliance has any hopes of winning. At the end the DMK has to win rural seats in North Tamil Nadu and the AIADMK has to do very well in the South (Madurai belt) along with fishing areas like Nagapattinam and also the communist areas in the state. Even then it will be a very close contest at the end.

Western Tamil Nadu (Coimbatore) may be the battle that could determine the winner. AIADMK has been traditionally strong, but the DMK hopes its alliance with a caste-based Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam can make the difference. The party polled over 5 lakh votes in 12 constituencies in the 2009 parliamentary elections and if it carries those votes for the DMK alliance it could be the decider. It was launched only ahead of the 2009 elections and the caste vote is transferable. Observers say that the DMK's generosity in accommodating the KMK with 7 seats may be a good decision at the end of the day. But even with the alliance it will be a very close fight in the western regions.
I guess if you leave the western parts of the state and the micro issues out, the two large questions that will determine the verdict are: can giving free colour TV and populist governance defeat the tag of corruption, and can having Vijayakanth as an ally change the arithmetic against a time-tested Congress-PMK-DMK alliance? At the moment I would only say your guess is as good as mine. The game for Tamil Nadu is still wide open.