Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sharmila’s date with AFSPA

The timing is right and so are the circumstances. The debate over the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act is not something new and it has been there since the late 70s or early 80s, when the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India challenging the validity or legality of the said Act. The Court ruled in favour of the said Act, but in the process it laid down a certain set of dos and don'ts for the security personnel, who operate under the legal protection provided by this Act. At the moment, the debate over the continued imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has reached a crescendo, with the focus on the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 70 or more civilians in the last 60 days or so. Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has already made his position clear and that is AFSPA needs to be repealed as it has only succeeded in alienating the people of Kashmir further. This point has also been brought to the notice of the Centre numerous times, by several human rights groups from the North East and perhaps, the year 2004 will go down as a water shed in the protest against the continued imposition of the said Act. The nude protest by women folk in front of Kangla, the self immolation of Pebam Chittaranjan, the over two months long agitation which ultimately led Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to fly down to Imphal in November , 2004 wherein the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission was constituted to look into the finer details of the said Act and see what can be done. As things have turned out, the Centre has been sleeping over the recommendations of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission, but the significance of the Prime Minister's observation that a humane Act is needed, cannot be lost on anyone, especially the policy framers of the country as well as the military establishment. At that point of time, in 2004, Kashmir did not figure prominently in the debate, but today, the focus on the said Act, which is a remnant of the British Raj, has come into focus following the turmoil in Kashmir for more than two months, which has seen teenagers coming out on the streets to engage the security personnel in a battle of stone pelting or catapult war. There is something different in the present turmoil, for the security forces are not engaged by any armed or banned organisations, but by the ordinary folks, mostly comprising of young people, some of whom must have just stepped into their teens. With the body bags increasing, it took Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to admit that proposals to amend the said Act, which gives sweeping powers to the military, have met with stiff opposition from some quarters and we do not need rocket science technology to work out who are the ones opposing any move to dilute the said Act and make it more humane or make the security forces more accountable to the law of the land. The fact that the Supreme Court deemed it necessary to issue a certain set of guidelines or dos and don'ts to the security forces, operating under this Act, is a tacit acceptance of the fact that the said Act contains provisions for misuse of power, that do nothing except victimise the people.
While AFSPA has come to occupy centre stage in Delhi and elsewhere due to the turmoil in Kashmir, in Manipur too, this Act has resurfaced to occupy precious newspapers columns for two entirely different reasons. Wittingly or unwittingly, it was Chief Minister O Ibobi who raked up the AFSPA issue while addressing the people while paying tributes to late Major Laishram Jyotin, who died fighting terrorists, who had stormed the Indian Embassy at Kabul in the early part of this year. Perhaps it was over enthusiasm or perhaps it was the failure to grasp the heart beats of the people, or perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to add more punch to the questions posed against the numerous women activists, who have been crying hoarse about human rights violations, but have been keeping a deafening silence, over the increasing cases of bomb attacks and violence in Imphal area. Whatever the case, Chief Minister O Ibobi managed to rake up the AFSPA issue, when he opted for the carrot and stick policy, by hinting or subtly threatening that AFSPA may be re-imposed in the seven Assembly segments of the Indian Municipal Council, if things do not improve. That the carrot and stick policy no longer impresses an adult audience, seems to have blown over the head of the Chief Minister, but in one stroke he has been able to bring the focus back on AFSPA, while this issue is being hotly debated in other parts of the country, following the unprecedented public turmoil in Kashmir. On a more sombre but dignified manner, this said Act has come back to the consciousness of the people of Manipur, as Irom Sharmila Chanu is set to complete ten years of hunger strike, demanding the total revocation of the said Act. The lone crusader has in the last ten years or so, demonstrated to the whole world, how an issue can be kept alive or a target pursued by steering clear of threatrics and indulging in lung power or street politics, where everything is noise and din with little substance. It has been a dignified and silent protest, far removed from the type of protests that we have seen in this part of the world. So in Kashmir, it is the turmoil during the last 60 days or so of public protest, while in Manipur, it was the ‘slip of the tongue’ of the Chief Minister and the dignified and silent protest launched by Sharmila which have brought the said controversial Act into the consciousness of the people. The important and critical question lying before us, as former Health Director Dr Th Suresh pointed out in a letter to the Editor and published some days back in this newspaper is, what would be the fate of Sharmila, if everyone accepts some cuts and amendments in AFSPA instead of its total repeal ? The answer can only be provided by Sharmila herself, but let's also not forget that constructive counselling is important and that she has done more than what all the other champions of human rights have done till date.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Himalayan divide

Two most populous countries in the world with vast human resources at their disposal, vast geographical areas which add to their advantage over geographically smaller Nations, occupying strategic positions on the map of South Asia with easy access to sea routes, which means avenues for maritime trade and commerce, natural boundaries and immediate neighbours to boot. One a Communist country, with constant State interventions in almost every aspects of the life of its citizens, but which nevertheless have found the right, if not perfect, formula to blend Communism with a market driven economy and the other, the largest democracy in the world, embracing within its fold different religions, communities and linguistic groups, and wedded to the idea of Socialism for the greater period after 1947 only to be rudely woken up by the changing global scenario in the early 90s. Indeed, no other country or Nation, would come close to the journey that India and China have chosen to step into the 21st Century and very significantly, today, China has replaced Japan as the second largest or strongest economy in the world, just after the United States. India too has not been doing badly, counted as it is amongst the top 15 Nations in terms of its economic growth and potential. Apart from its recently discovered economic renaissance, China today stands as the country with the biggest military, while India too comes somewhere close after China, the US and Russia. One a democracy and one a Communist country, with the mighty Himalayan range serving as the natural boundary between the two Nations, which many believe will be the giants of the new millennium. That two countries, with the biggest populations in the world and hitherto striving and surviving under the Utopian dream or political beliefs of Socialism where the term Capitalism was considered a dirty word, should today emerge as economic power houses on the world stage is something that would not have been thought possible two or even one decade ago. The other side of the new found global status of these two neighbours is the politics of one upmanship being staged before the world, in the race to dominate the scenario in South East Asia, for the future of Asia lies here and not the Middle East, where the US has shown that it has more than a simple interest in over throwing tin pot dictators like Saddam Hussein or dogmatic regimes like the Taliban or exterminating terror groups like Al Qaeda. The uneasy relationship between China and India is not new and we can trace this to the Nehru era, when the slogan Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai was over night turned into an open confrontation on the high altitude battle fields of the Himalayas. India suffered great losses in the confrontations, and even today, China has not retracted from its claim that Arunachal Pradesh, part or the whole of it, belongs to them. The latest movement of missiles close to the Indo-China border by the Chinese has only exacerbated the tense relationship.
It is not a question of who wins or who loses, but a question of power equation and political influence in South East Asia. Already China has shown interest in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with promises of financial and technical aid, which is sure to hurt the interest of India. The changing posture of New Delhi towards the Military Junta in Myanmar, at the expense of Aung San Suu Kyi, is a telling commentary of the compulsion and need of strategic tie ups in regional politics. Again it is due to the dictates of regional politics that India today no longer talks about Tibet as an occupied province of China. This brief sketch of the two most populous countries in the world may perhaps give us the opportunity to have a wider understanding of the ruckus and political outcry raised after the Chinese refused to grant visa to Lt General BS Jaswal, the GOC-in-C of the Northern Command of the Indian Army on the ground that China still views Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed zone. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of political parties and the Indian military establishment have cried foul over the conduct of the Chinese Government. Some have even called the visa refusal an insult to India, though Union Defence Minister AK Antony has somehow tried to play it down by asserting that this will not mean an end to any military co-operation between the two countries. That China should see India as a potential rival in Asia and even in the world, is by itself an acknowledgement of the growing political and economic clout of India, but a closer look will expose that India is not exactly a holy cow, when it comes to matters of diplomatic ties. Much before the Lt General was denied a visa by China, a similar incident, which bordered on the nonsense, happened in Manipur. This did not kick up a ruckus nor did it register in the consciousness of the Indian Republic. To cut a long story short, sometime in the early/middle part of July this year, an invitation was sent to the Chinese General Consul based in Kolkata, Mr Mao Siwei by the Dean of Social Science of Manipur University. The Chinese diplomat was supposed to be here from August 9 to 16 and among his itinerary was a lecture on the topic, China And India : Linked Yet Different Civilisations. The invitation was sent not by any Tom, Dick or Harry, but by the Dean of Social Science, Manipur University, which is a statutory post created by Parliament. However the Consul General was denied permission to visit Manipur by the Ministry of External Affairs, without citing any reason ! Herein lies a tale. A Consul General already in Kolkata, a city in India denied entry to Manipur, a State of India sounds much weirder than refusing a visa to an Army officer to visit China from India !

Saturday, August 28, 2010

PIB PRO, a persona-non-grata here ?

This is the second time that we are commenting on the same issue in less than a year and to make it very clear to all, there is no malicious intent nor any other agenda, but to help improve the role of the media as a medium of keeping the people in touch with the security forces, if not directly or personally, but at least through the written words. How long has it been that the Army here has been functioning without a regular Public Relations Officer ? For the benefits of those at the Union Defence Ministry and Leimakhong, allow us to take the liberty of stating some facts. The last officially posted Army PRO here, was Colonel Rajesh Mishra, who came here as a Lt Colonel and got promoted to Colonel during his tenure here. Mr Mishra was posted here sometime in 2006 and he completed his term here in 2009 and left Imphal either on August 22, 2009 or 23, 2009. The exact date escapes our mind. There was a farewell dinner hosted by him for the press fraternity on August 15 at the Manipur Press Club, but to the surprise of some senior Editors, including the two Editors of The Sangai Express, (English and Manipuri editions), there was no fresh face to be introduced, contrary to earlier traditions that a new PRO or at least a PRO designate of the Army was present, for the 'introduction rituals.' That this came as something of a surprise may not have reached the ears of defence establishment for reasons best known to them, but the tradition for the outgoing PRO to host a dinner or a cocktail party to introduce the new PRO to the media persons in Manipur is or was still alive. It happened when Lt Col Mr Sinha left sometime in 2002 to pave the way for Mr SD Goswami, a Major at the time of his transfer here. The farewell dinner was hosted inside the Kangla , when it was still occupied by the 17 Assam Rifles with Brigadier EJ Kochekkan stationed there with other units of the Assam Rifles functioning under his overall command. There was no break in the tradition, when Mr Goswami was transferred and Mr Rajesh Mishra took over as the new PRO sometime in 2006. There was as usual a farewell dinner at the Manipur Press Club and the Editors, senior journalists and others were all introduced to the newly transferred PRO, Mr Mishra. This has been the tradition as far as The Sangai Express remember and we may be pardoned, if the tradition was otherwise prior to the period which we have just mentioned. From the response that we received from Leimakhong, when we commented on this rather uncomfortable subject (for them) the first time many moons back, a similar reaction will not surprise us or has the mindset changed in the interregnum ? This should be interesting. The PRO office at M Sector is presently functioning under an avuncular Head Clerk, who we all refer to as Sube Saab. Nothing wrong with this, as all the staff attached to this office are courtesy personified. The same thing goes for the big honchos at Leimakhong too. The present GOC of 57 Mountain Division, Major General DS Hooda is not only an officer, but a gentleman to boot and what is most remarkable is his accessibility to the media. Such an approach has of course gone a long way in somehow making up for the vacuum created by the absence of a regular PRO at M Sector. But a GOC is a GOC and it would be demeaning to his post and stature if we are to contact him for everything !
The reason why we have deemed it necessary to comment on this point again is to drill into the heads of the bureaucrats in their air conditioned rooms and air conditioned cars, such as the Defence Secretary, that a PRO is a PRO, a Public Relations Officer. Not by any stretch of the imagination should we come under the illusion that the office of the PRO is opened here merely to issue press releases of the Army, which are at most times not at all news worthy. The job of the PRO is much more than that. It not only means striking a rapport with the tribe, who goes by the name of journalists, but also reaching out and trying to understand the social as well as political trend prevailing at their place of posting. In other words, it is a way of getting to know the local people better and acting as the bridge between the defence establishment and the common people. This exercise is important given the fact that confidence building measures are needed in the face of so many allegations, some real and some cooked up, levelled against the men in uniform. Unfortunately Mr AK Antony, the man who has earned a name for himself as possibly the most upright and honest politician in the country, does not seem to have come around to this idea or fact. Upright and honest politicians are needed if India is to survive the global challenges, but these attributes alone will not stand in good stead, if one is not politically sensitive and matters of importance fail to register in their mind. Bureaucrats, who decide what the men in the field should do, has outlived its utility, to our mind, and the time is now to hunt for people who have experienced and seen it all, to advise the Defence Ministry on important internal issues. The office of the PRO at M Sector today looks like a forgotten son, uncared for and left to its own fate. It is baffling and defies logic that such a situation has been allowed to happen in a place like Manipur, which has earned the unflattering tag as one of the most disturbed States in India ? Or is the Defence Ministry and others from civilian background such as the Defence Secretary under the impression that the job of the PRO is just to issue press releases and photos of the top honchos of the defence establishments, especially when their seniors come from Delhi and meet the Governor or the Chief Minister ? Lest we forget, the Leimakhong authority in its response to our earlier comment on this same topic had given the telephone numbers and officers to be contacted when needed, but since then there has been no update and everyone knows the SIM cards keep changing. We hope the observations we have underlined, will have some positive impact or else, there will be the growing unhealthy belief that being posted as the PRO means a stop, if not a full stop, to the military career of an Army officer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet and bitter

It would have been a block buster or we would have been more than willing to give the five star ratings to Chief Minister O Ibobi for hitting out at the right platform amid the right audience and in the right time. However true to his characteristics, the Chief Minister did not just stop at the point that would have earned him laurels from all quarters, but went off track and in the process, his speech or address which otherwise was bang on target, received that dose of poli-speak, to coin a term, which had no relevance to the time or occasion but only had the potential to expose a confused mindset. Chief Minister O Ibobi did the right thing in going ahead and meeting the parents and family members of the late Major Jyotin, who engaged a fully armed terrorist with his bare hands to a scuffle and managed to save the lives of a number of his colleagues, before being blown apart by the vest bomb which the terrorist wore and triggered off on realising that it was a losing battle. Both died, but both will not and cannot receive the same due respect and homage due to a departed soul, as per the universal understanding of who is a protector and who is a terrorist. That the heroic deed that we are talking occurred on one of the most important dates in the history of India, January 26, Republic Day, 2010 during a terror strike at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, adds to the significance of the legacy of the late Major, the first from the Medical Corp of the Indian Army to be conferred the Ashok Chakra posthumously. The Chief Minister's visit to the natal home of the late Major at Nambol was perfectly in line with what was expected from the leader of the people of Manipur and so was the ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakhs, though in the ultimate estimation, the ex-gratia will not amount to much, whether in terms of its monetary values in the market or when put on the measuring scale with the sacrifice of Major Jyotin. It is also extremely important and significant that the Chief Minister took the opportunity to come out hammer and tongs against all the women activists, the Ima and Ibens. The Chief Minister's poser to them was direct and without malice, for pointing out the facts cannot be termed malicious in the civilised world. A dharna here and there against the threats on the civil population, such as planting bombs, gifting bullets or even firing at the residence of an official, a contractor or a trader, all for money, does not in any way reflect genuine concern of the situation. In fact such token acts of solidarity or protest exposes nothing but the hypocrisy of the people and we are not at all surprised by this if we care to recollect some instances of the past. What happened the day after the bomb attack at ISKCON during Krishna Janma in 2006, which claimed a number of innocent lives, tells a significant story. We remember correctly, the next day passed off as if everything was hunky dory, with just some token show of protest or solidarity that such terror activities will not be tolerated. That this was the reaction of the people in a land, where a hue and cry is raised even over the most of trivial issues is surprising and shocking !
The few examples we have cited will help us in getting a better understanding of the points that we are going to enumerate now. Yes, the Chief Minister was absolutely right in asking where all the Ima-Ibens have disappeared amid the rising trend of bomb attacks at the residences of anyone who has some deposits in the bank or who is perceived to belong to the moneyed class or when bullets are delivered as gifts to get the message across or when houses are fired upon. This is a question which has been doing the round amongst the people, but which has not been articulated on public platforms, for reasons we do not need to elaborate here. However question we must, oppose we must and realise we must of the fact that the man holding the gun and pointing the barrel at us could be anyone, a security personnel, a self appointed son of the soil who dons the mask of the highly romantic sounding term, revolutionaries or some goons. The romance of insurrection or taking up the gun and leading the life of a fugitive in revolt against the ruling elite, under a well defined ideology, has been muddied by some crooks, and perhaps we can say that this tryst with the romance of revolution died when Che Guevera was executed by the Bolivian army many decades back. The only living figure from such an era is Fidel Castro of Cuba, but here too, he is today no longer seen as a man waging a battle from the jungles, but more of a statesman. It is amid this historical reality that Manipur is experiencing one of its most turbulent times, with everyone free to float an outfit or two, pick up an alias, that sounds distinctly ‘ferocious‘ and radical, and then take the journey of terror to earn money by using some hand grenades and hand guns to open fire at the intended target. The Chief Minister was again bang on target in questioning where all the champions of human rights have disappeared in the face of all these acts of violence, nay terror, that are enacted in the name of the Motherland. The flip side however is, it would have been perfect or a score 9.9 out of ten if Mr Ibobi Singh had stuck to this, but in his over enthusiasm, he in a way threatened the people with the reimposition of AFSPA in the seven Assembly segments of Imphal Municipal Council. This is not only foolhardy but betrays an acute lack of understanding of the sentiments of the people. The public should not be taken as fools that the Government think that it can play around. The epitaph of the carrots and sticks policy has been written a long time back. Our advice is give the toffees to the toddlers to silence them, but do not attempt this on an adult audience. In short, the CM's address was a well served meal, but with the dessert spoiling it all in the end.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Noble Peace Price

In today's highly materialistic world, nothing comes for free. No free lunches, no freebies. In fact everything comes with a price tag and the ultimate selling point of anything, whether it is some tangible goods, an idea, a piece of creative work (read the intellectual property rights) or anything that is for sale and is in demand, is the question of whether a thing or an idea or an aspiration is worth the price to be paid for. Determining the worth of material objects, say a pair of denims, does not need a genius, but this can get very tricky, dicey and complicated, when we are confronted with the question of determining the price of something intangible, but which nevertheless is very, very important to our existence. Just as no two countries apply the same yardstick when it comes to questions like the intellectual property rights or copy rights, the same do occur in other aspects too. Human live is costly, in fact nothing is dearer than the life of anyone, but to the terrorists or the religious bigots or the serial murderers or criminals, the life of a man or a woman may equal just a few lakhs or thousands of rupees. In fact it is because of the value that we attach to human lives that there is no end to the debate over the merits and demerits of capital punishment, awarded by the Court of law and thus we see some countries doing away with this practice altogether, while some others follow this, based on the belief that such action will act as a deterrent. Again, there is also an interesting question of whether the life of a VVIP or a lay person are equal in the eyes of the law or in the universally accepted but not documented, views. So while the capital punishment is most likely a foregone conclusion when a VVIP is assassinated or murdered, when it involves the murder of a VVIP, the same cannot be said with such certainty if the victim happens to be a rickshaw driver or a daily wage labourer. This is another manifestation of the whimsical mindset of the human race and while discussing the price of anything, especially the intangible ones, this will become all the more apparent. We have cited some of these observations, for, like it or not, today we have to confront the question “What price should we pay for peace ?” Do we, the general public just wait for peace to be delivered to us on a platter, or is it important to get involved in any peace process as we are all stakeholders ? Or do we simply sit back, relax and silently pay our pound of flesh, demanded in the name of peace ? Ideally these questions would not have arisen, if only those who are supposed to be negotiating issues on “behalf of the people, they claim to represent” stick to some basic facts of life and that is, engaging in a peace process does not mean granting them the license to do as they please and this may range from wide scale extortions, which are conveniently passed off as taxes, looting vehicles on the highways, intimidating anyone at their fancies and whims and issuing diktats which are expected to be followed with the ‘consequences’ rider. We don't think we need to elaborate on the consequences part, for this is the key on which the whole exercise of muscle flexing rest.
Forget about the North East region and let's concentrate on Manipur and on Nagaland to some extent, for the term, peace talk has become something of a fashion statement in these two States, ever since the IM group of the NSCN started talking to New Delhi on August 1, 1997. The peace talk is still on, but lest the people are lulled into a false sense of new found freedom, peace by itself does not mean the absence of overt expression of violence or guns booming, but more about what Rabindranath Tagore penned down more fifty years ago, “Where the mind is without fear,” in the acclaimed Gitanjali. The peace talk with the IM group has been experienced by the Nagas of Nagaland and Manipur all these years, but can they really say that their mind is not without fear ? Are they free, as universally accepted, from the diktats of its armed cadres, who even go to the extent of levying taxes on charcoals being sold by the marginal farmers in places like Ukhrul ? The answer should be obvious to all. The other is of course, the much talked about and which is currently in the news, the Suspension of Operations between the Kuki armed groups and the State and Central Governments. Any journey or initiatives towards peace is always welcome, but the question of larger importance is whether the price that the people are expected to pay for peace to become a reality is proportionate to the final outcome that will come. To many observers, the SoO pact is more like giving a free hand to the militants to impose their diktats and move around freely, something which was not possible earlier. The fault here lies in the utter failure of the Government to implement the cease fire ground rules in letter and spirit. By all appearances and indications, it is more than obvious that the security personnel are contented with the fact that the number of their adversaries have seen a marked decrease, thanks to SoO. This rankles and the overt and naked threats issued against a reporter of the Lamka Post in Churachandpur is nothing but a manifestation of the manner in which cadres of these armed groups are slowly showing their true colours—the transformation from the cover of revolutionaries to plain goons is complete. The Joint Monitoring Group will be committing a gross mistake or an error of judgement, if they are under the impression that their periodical meetings are enough to say that they are on the road to peace, but behind the mask of revolutionaries and working for peace, the lurking characteristics of these elements are not going to stop them from optimising the new found “license to kill, maim, loot and threaten ,” wittingly or unwittingly. The Manipur Hills Journalists' Union has already closed ranks and launched their first phase of agitation and while this commentary is not on whether the report filed in the Lamka Post is correct or not, the overt threat to the reporter cannot be tolerated. The JMG should act, or else SoO may end up like the last letter, which looks like a Zero.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CS fixation : Limited vision

Rightfully it would be taken as blasphemy to compare two discipline or career, vis-a-vis, its contribution to society, or more, it would be taken as an exercise in futility fit for some indepth studies only for morons, who cannot tell the broad differences between different disciplines in Science, such as Physics, Chemistry or Biology, not to speak about the micro-division or specialisation within each of these streams again. In this modern age, where everything is about super specialists, whether it is in medical or engineering or management or teaching, it would be foolhardy to compare any of these disciplines or professions with one another and not only that it would be dangerous as well, as such an exercise can open the door to lopsided views, which in the long term can only mean a death blow to the society as a whole. This matter is further compounded when the Government of the day, in their blinkered views, throw their weight behind such an approach and give it a stamp of official recognition or legitimacy. In India, one needs to be all that more careful and critical in the face of the fact that many of the institutions that we have today, ranging from the Parliamentary system of democracy to the Judiciary and the role of the technocrats and bureaucrats are remnants of the British Raj. There is nothing wrong in inheriting a system left behind by a former foreign power, but the matter of greater import is to study whether these remnants are in sync with the demands of the time or not. It is the demand of the time, which has compelled the Union Human Resources Department to explore the ways and means in which the examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, can take hitherto uncharted courses. The Indian Council of School Education many follow suit and if this works, then we can be prepared for other State boards to follow the course charted out by the Union HRD. The emergence of comparatively new fields of research in discipline, such as Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology, research in virology which invade the human immune system, the exploration of space to gather whatever information is there, the efforts to experiment with new technology to study the feasibility of turning sea water into portable water, study in human genomes and DNA which led to cloning Dolly the first cloned animal in the world, the study on how to deliver governance after manoeuvring through the corridors of babudom and Sahebs and Memsahibs, etc. all point to the inextricable link between the different branches of knowledge and specialists and we have no words strong enough in our dictionary to describe any elements or institutions which have failed to register this in their mind. Will the term buffoons qualify to describe these elements ? Or what about a special class of human beings, who will score lesser than zero in the Intelligence Quotient test ? That all knowledge and hence all professions are somehow linked and a near perfect synchronisation of all these is what the doctors prescribe for the well being of a society is a fact that cannot be wished away. It is when one stream of knowledge or expertise seamlessly merge with another that one can expect positive results. For example, the medical world would have been that much poorer if not for the rapid strides made in the field of technology. This is the reason why we see a proliferation of medical laboratories all over the world. And lest people forget, the spirit of the merging of different expertise and discipline to come out with a coherent end point is something which is developed while occupying the seats of learning, the highest seat of education, the university.
It is against this backdrop that we would like to raise certain questions over the recent decision of the State Government to dole out an aid of Rs 1 lakh to all the students who have cleared the Preliminary examination for selection to the All India Civil Services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. Was the decision taken with the sole objective of giving not only financial assistance but also a moral booster or was it due to some lop sided judgement of the State Government ? We are inclined to believe that the latter is the case. It stands true that those who shone in the entrance examination conducted by the UPSC in three phases, the prelims, main and the interview, have gone on to occupy important positions in the Government hierarchy. The Union Cabinet Secretary and other high ranking posts of a Government servant inevitably goes to an officer from the IAS cadre and the same is the case with the Foreign Secretary, the Union Home Secretary, Defence Secretary etc. The career opportunity is immense for those who successfully undergo the rigorous test, to make the cut of the Indian Civil Service. On a smaller scale yet important nonetheless, Chief Secretaries, Addl Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, etc all play an important role in the administration of a State. But the Government should come around to the idea that what the civil servants can do are as important and at times even more important than what some professionals do. Have we ever heard of a grant of Rs 1 lakh given to a medical student pursuing his Doctor of Medicine, in Cardiology after all the grinds of passing through the MBBS, MD etc. Or how about the technocrats, who sweat it out amongst the din and racket of the heavy machineries and have to visit hostile terrains, to make a road traffic worthy or that ubiquitous, bespectacled nerd who spends his time in the laboratory trying to get a better understanding of human genomes or the economists, who spends hours in the library going through Malthus, Keynes, Adam Smith to get a better grip of the vicissitudes of economic uncertainties. How can we forget G Hardy, the Maths genius and his Indian protege, whose name escapes our mind at the moment. Or those from the humanities, such as Ramchandra Guha who have spent their days and life literally travelling from one library to another to get a better understanding of the present times by going back to the past or Sociologists like MN Srinivas, Andre Betteile or from Raymond Aaron to Max Weber, Durkheim, Maliknowski, etc. There must be many more such personalities in the making, and it makes no sense that Mr Ibobi and his men should be so overawed by the civil servants that at the cost of forgetting these other disciplines, they have deemed it fit to concentrate on the civil service aspirants alone. Nothing is wrong in this, except that it betrays the complete lack of the understanding of the demands of the time and the need to strike up a coherent whole. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not from the IAS nor was former President APJ Abdul Kalam. This is significant.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Shooting the messenger ?

It comes close to a case of barking up the wrong tree or shooting the messenger ! The outburst against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram for stating that there is no question of compromising the territorial integrity of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh by the United Naga Council recently amounts to missing the target by miles. As the Union Home Minister, Chidambaram is sure to have his takes and views on the Greater Lim issue, but what he said on the floor of Parliament a few days back, is nothing more than what two Prime Ministers of India had said earlier. It is a little surprising to see that the UNC, which otherwise is regarded as a keen observer with a clear agenda guided by political prudence should overlook the subtle but significant points made by two Prime Ministers on the Lim issue earlier. Yes Chidambaram, in line with his personality, spoke out bluntly but let us not forget the recent Independence Day address to the Nation by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Not given to loud talks and rhetorics, the observation of the Prime Minister, “I would like to convey to all political parties and groups of the North East that disputes in the name of States or tribes can only harm us,” is pregnant with meaning and in a way is a direct address to the Lim issue. This is as good as what Mr Chidambaram said on the floor of the Parliament, though we do agree it was bereft of political niceties and diplomacy. Before Dr Manmohan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, during his days as the Prime Minister in the NDA Government delivered a similar message, wherein he said that political consensus is needed to resolve the Lim issue, while addressing a public meeting at Kohima some years back. This is political prudence at its best. The question therefore is why the UNC should be so rankled by the statement of Mr Chidambaram, when all he did was echo the message of the two Prime Ministers in clear cut terms, without dolling it up with political niceties and diplomacy. In such a charged up political scenario, the decision of the apex Naga body in Manipur to extend the 20 days economic blockade by yet another 25 days is not surprising. The 20 days economic blockade announced by the UNC came into force on August 4 and was to wind up by 6 am of August 24, which is today (Tuesday). However as things stand today, the blockade has been extended by another 25 days and to put it bluntly, we will not be surprised if Manipur as a whole remain indifferent to it, as like bandhs and general strikes, economic blockade has also lost its novelty and down the years the rest of Manipur have learnt to cope with what is available, without making much of a hue and cry. This is precisely the reason why there was no response or even the slightest hint of an acknowledgement when the indefinite blockade was suspended on June 18 this year after 68 days of cutting off the lifelines of the State. That the decision to decide the fate of the people of Manipur was taken at Kohima only added to the chagrin of the people and of course no one could have missed the arrogance in the tone of the blockade sponsors, when they announced the suspension of the economic blockade. Much have been said about the demand raised by the NSCN (IM) to integrate all Naga inhabited areas under one administrative umbrella as well as the stiff opposition to this demand by civil society organisations like the All Manipur United Clubs' Organisation and the United Committee Manipur. In fact, before the demand for a Greater Lim became vocal and before this idea was passed on to the Naga civil society organisations in Manipur by the NSCN (IM), AMUCO had demonstrated great far sightedness in organising the massive integrity rally on August 4, 1997, which has since served as the rallying point for all those who stand for a unified Manipur.
After August 4, 1997, Manipur has experienced troubling times, such as the June 18 incident of 2001, the 52 days economic blockade imposed by the All Naga Students' Association, Manipur in 2005 to the stand off between the NSCN (IM) and the State Government over the proposed visit of Th Muivah to his native place sometime in the early part of May this year. The Mao incident of May 6, 2010 in which two young students lost their lives and the 68 days economic blockade that followed are all intrinsically linked to the Lim issue and there is every reason to pre-suppose that the stiff opposition to the election to the Autonomous District Council had something or everything to do with the Lim demand. Otherwise, how can one explain the diametrically opposing stand taken by the Kukis and the Nagas, for the ADCs are meant for the tribal people and these two represent the biggest tribes in Manipur. Or are we to believe that the opposition to the ADC election was solely linked to the third amendment of 2008 ? We do not really comprehend the finer nuances of the politics of the ongoing peace parleys between the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India, so we really do not know whether Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is answerable to the various charges levelled against him by the UNC, but one point that is clear to us is, the Home Minister said what other political leaders have said before him, though not as directly and as bluntly as him. The examples of the two Prime Ministers, we have cited above, should be self explanatory. It was not only the statements of the two Prime Ministers, but if we care to minutely study the political developments vis-a-vis the Lim issue, the roll back of the term “without territorial limits” from the June 14, 2001 Bangkok Declaration during the days of the NDA regime, way back in July 2001, should have conveyed the core message. The points we have quoted, obviously blew over the heads of organisations like the UNC. It is a pity that the UNC reacted only against the statement of the Union Home Minister, though the fact stands that two Prime Ministers before him had said much the same thing, though they put it differently.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Circle to square, R/H to L/H ?

Sample this : How do you change a circle to a square ? No, don’t try to recollect all the mathematical formulae or geometrical definitions of circle and square and obtuse angle or such things for the answer is simple: Change Connaught Circle to Rajiv Square. This was the punchline given at the end of an article written by the inimitable, TVR Shenoy, in The Week many, many years back, when the Narasimha Rao Government was in power at Delhi and all Congressmen were trying to outdo each other in the sycophancy department. This was sometime in the early 90s. Now fast forward 20 years and Manipur has perfected the art of changing the right wheel drive norms to a left wheel drive with just the snap of the finger, by just changing the entry and exit points of vehicles in the busy Paona bazar. The objective is laudable. Who wouldn't welcome the idea of easing the traffic flow in the heart of Imphal ? To get a better understanding of the traffic chaos in Imphal, allow us to digress a little bit. It was not like this, and one can recollect the good old days, when Imphal had no need for one way traffic and driving along the Kanglapat road, especially in front of M Sector and the Raj Bhawan was an experience in itself. School kids used the bicycles to go to school, not buses or fancy two wheelers as we see today. The rickshaw was the main means of movement for the people in Imphal and so were bicycles. However with India opening up her economy, the consumers got spoilt for choices. Earlier it was either the Ambasador or the Premier Padmini, but today there are a whole lot of choices that one can make, from Tata's cheapest car in the world, the Nano, which comes with a price tag of Rs 1 lakh, to some of the high end vehicles. Mahindra and Mahindra could no longer rely on their outdated Jeep, but were compelled to innovate and come out with an array of new models in the face of the people of the North East and Kashmir and the Army gradually opting for the Gypsy which came from the Maruti stable. Thus we see the up market Scorpios and Boleros, complete with different variants, hitting the roads of Manipur today. The same thing happended in the two wheeler sector. Today it is no longer about tossing a coin between a Bajaj 150 or a Bajaj Super/Chetak or any other two wheelers that came in the look and form of scooters and not motor bikes. Hero Honda changed all that and there are reasons why this company has managed to top Bajaj in the two wheeler sector. With hitherto unheard of job openings coming up in the last few years, landing a job in the private sector if one as the attitude and aptitude, has become all that more easier. Going hand in hand with all these phenomena, in the post liberalisation era, are the generous bank loans on offer now. Maruti tied up with the State Bank of India and getting a car with a down payment of only 25 percent of the total, means one could buy a Maruti 800 car with Rs 50,000 in hand. The rest of course had to be paid on a monthly basis over a period of time which may range from three to six or seven years. The conditions applied in such transactions are also simple and if one is a Government employee, all the easier, since it needs only the nod of the person, who is in charge of releasing the monthly salary of the employee concerned. For others, it would mean having a fixed deposit account, which will serve as the safety deposit. Manipur has reaped this dividend and unlike 20 or so years ago, when a leikai had only one family owning a car, that too, the doctor or the Engineer or some hot shot contractors, today almost every household has a vehicle or two at their disposal.
We have cited these factual records to have a better understanding of the traffic chaos that we see everyday on the streets of Imphal. With the buying capacity of the people going up, coupled with the availability of a number of options, the number of vehicles plying on the streets of Imphal have increased manifold. Unfortunately, the Government forgot or did not realise that they too have to move along with the time and study how the existing roads can accommodate the increase in traffic volume. Remember the time when the Government decided that no vehicles will be allowed inside Thangal bazar and Paona bazar in the face of the growing traffic congestion in these commercial centres ? At the risk of blowing our own trumpets, we would like to say that we were the first newspaper to react and point out the fallacies of such a quixotic idea. Not surprisingly, this decision was revoked and everything came back to square one. A traffic free zone is a welcome idea, for it would mean not only doing away with congested streets, but also ensure that at least we can cut down on polluting the environment. However, any course of action or plans taken up by the Government should be led by wisdom and a carefully thought out plan. We really do not know who advises the Chief Minister on matters like this, but the new traffic regulations put in place right now has not only added to the confusion of the people, but has also wittingly or unwittingly violated the right hand drive traffic norms of the country. The entry point at Paona bazar from Keishampat side has been sealed to all vehicles and one now has to take the Kanglapat route, take BT Road and if one has to go to Paona bazar, then take a left turn near the fly over bridge. This is where the interesting point lies. This inevitably means that any vehicle headed to Paona bazar, from the northern side, will have to take the right side to park their vehicles ! This does not make sense for it goes against the right hand drive norms in India. The auto rickshaw and Tata Magic taxis have been told to shift base to either behind Johnstone Higher Secondary School or near the MPP office. This appears fine, but the question is, how they exit from their parking lot with the passengers ? Half baked ideas cannot be the answer to the issue right now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Prime Time privilege

Forget about Parliament, even the mainstream media, meaning the news channels and newspapers that have a pan-India reach and outlook, have always tended to overlook the North East region, in its coverage. There could be many factors for this such as the limited market and the general lack of awareness of the region amongst the newspaper readers or news channel watchers in mainland India, or it could just be a case of “North East ? Where is that ?,” where people from this region are identified by their Mongoloid features. Chinky is the term used to identify the North East boys and girls in places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai etc and while most of the youths from this region have managed to come to terms with it, the overt derogatory tone accompanying this term cannot miss the eye. To draw a parallel, it is like using the term Hao Macha to describe the hill men in Manipur, particularly by the Meiteis, and we have seen and experienced, how the usage of such terms can lead to deep wounds and scars that refuse to go away. Even in the West, the Blacks are no longer referred to as Negroes or the more discriminatory Niggers. Even the term Blacks now come with another more acceptable name, which is African Americans. In fact so deeply is the modern world against racism or racial discrimination, in the post Apartheid era, that any comment which is construed as racially demeaning or discriminatory, is most likely to land the person responsible in a soup ! We have just made a general observation of where the North East, including Manipur stands in the overall mental make up of the people of the so called mainland India. The fact that the term North East is used particularly to refer to the seven States, eight if Sikkim is included, is in itself some sort of a “Us and Them” syndrome. This reality that we see all around gets reflected in the manner in which the media, which have an all India audience or readership, overlooks many critical issues besetting this region. So while the marriage between Sania Mirza and a cricket player from Pakistan made it to the prominent pages of all the newspapers and occupied prime time slots in the news channels, critical issues like the humanitarian crisis arising out of the economic blockade imposed on the highways leading to Manipur, the stand off between the Government of Manipur and the NSCN (IM) over the proposed visit of Th Muivah to his birth place in Somdal, the mautam or bamboo flowering phenomena which has come back to haunt some States in the North East are stashed away in the cold storage. The mainland media or the media which has an all India reach seemed more concerned over the movements of former junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar ! Some years back, it took Rajdeep Sardesai of CCN IBN to personally explain the stand of the news channel why the same coverage was not given when Assam and Bihar faced floods of the same magnitude at the same time. This time too, Sardesai has anchored a show, “Is Manipur India's Forgotten State ?” These measures though welcome seem to be more like some damage control exercise rather than trying to sincerely look into the situation and bring it to the knowledge of the people, to whom North East is as alien as China or the most isolated Nation in the world North Korea.
This is the general scenario, including the coverage of the North East in the mainstream media (We are using this term for want of a better alternative, much like the term Bollywood) and merely digesting the fact that two of the leading fortnightly magazines in the country, India Today and Outlook do not have their correspondents in the North East is an exercise in itself. Yes, earlier there were correspondents of these two publications based in Guwahati, but for reasons best known to them, the job of covering the North East has now fallen on the correspondent based in Kolkata. It is amid this climate of seeming indifference, not only among the political circle and the media, not to talk about the public of India, that Manipur figured prominently just the other day on the floor of the Lok Sabha. It is not often that critical issues besetting the State or the North East region get prime time slots in Parliament, but this time, it was a bit heartening to see Union Home Minister P Chidambaram put to rest certain issues, by speaking bluntly and without trying to confuse the public. These issues pertain to the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the creation of a Greater Nagalim, where Naga inhabited areas from Manipur, Assam and Arunachal are sought to be brought under a single administrative unit. To the people of the North East and Manipur the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is not something new and it is perhaps this Act which propelled Manipur into one of those prime time slots in the news channels and precious column in the newspapers. This happened way back in 2004, when people rose as one to demand the revocation of the said Act, after the bullet riddled body of Th Manorama was found the day after she was whisked away by a team of Assam Rifles personnel. The nude protest in front of Kangla will remain etched in the minds of everyone and the said controversial Army Act will always be associated with this historic and never before seen demonstration by women folk in India. Yes a debate on the controversial Act is raging and Home Minister Chidambaram took pains to explain that the Government needs to consult all concerned. It should be obvious that the concerned here is the defence establishment. Ironically everyone seems to have forgotten the lone woman, who will continue to be seen as the inspiring force behind the anti-AFSPA movement, Irom Chanu Sharmila who is set to complete ten years of fasting to demand the revocation of the said Act. History will not judge India favourably, if it ignores the gutsy mission of this lone crusader, when it comes to the question of AFSPA. And for the records, Manipur too was in the limelight during the months of June and July in 2001, when the Bangkok Declaration between India and the IM group was announced.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tech-enabled security

It is not surprising that the State Government has decided to instal closed circuit television cameras at strategic points in Imphal, including the Raj Bhawan and the official residence of the Chief Minister. Given the global scenario as well as the situation here, there is no element of surprise in the decision of the State Government to go ahead with the “Tech-Enabled Security System” and we have come across quite a number of cases where footages from the strategically placed CCTVs have come in handy while investigating a case. The reliance on technology for National security as well as to neutralise any subversive plots hatched by terror outfits, saw a sudden rise post September 11, 2001 and with terrorism now cutting across National boundaries and picking up victims at random, mostly unarmed, hapless civilians, the need for security technology has never been felt as urgently as the time we live in presently. Security technology is not only about CCTVs or video footages, but has to do with a whole gamut of system which include, information storing, intelligence sharing, keeping track of the movement of a suspect, satellite mapping, classified information, in fact all that one can think of in terms of utilising all the technical know how, one has at one's disposal. There is also the need for close co-ordination or a system, where the technologies are intricately linked and come under a large canvass, which is the over all security arrangements taken up by a State Government or a Nation. The rapid development in the information technology sector and the coming to age of modern gadgets such as mobile phones, laptops, internet etc, has also meant a giant leap for mankind towards a technology driven race and why not ? The increasing dependence on the use of technology for security reasons can be seen everywhere, whether one is at an airport or checking into a star hotel or trying to get hold of a driving license or a credit card or a passport. Nothing is left to chance, we must say. However the bitter truth is, whatever progress mankind has made to harness technical skills and expertise in ensuring the security of the people or a country, this has not been able to completely put a stop to subversive activities. The 26/11 terror attack at Mumbai in 2008, the underground railway attack at England some years back and the recent discovery of a bomb fitted car at New York in the USA are examples of how terror groups can infiltrate the tightest of security or the most sophisticated or efficient technology in use. Remember they also have their own set ups, which comprise extremely tech-savvy radicals. Earlier, it was mostly about well trained, well groomed sniffer dogs, with a rank in the security set up to boot, which were largely relied upon to detect landmines or booby traps in unfamiliar and hostile terrain. Today the sniffer dogs have had to make way for sophisticated gadgets to detect the killer bomb buried somewhere along the way or forewarn the approach of the enemy. Yes, “Tech-enabled security” is here to stay and the reliance on its efficiency will increase in proportion to the threat perceptions posed by radical elements, especially of the Al Qaeda and Taliban types.
Manipur does not exactly come under the category of countries or States which are prone to terror attack, though there have been an increase in acts which border on terrorism, such as lobbing bombs at the residence of an official or a trader, kidnapping for ransom, exploding powerful bombs in crowded places etc. In fact some incidents come to mind such as the bomb blast at ISKCON in 2006 when thousands of devotees had turned up for Krishna Janma or the more recent luna fitted bomb at Ragailong, next to the police commandos quarters, that left many dead and injured. From a totally detached or objective view, Manipur aptly fits the case of a State, where necessary technologies for security reasons are important. Remember the audacity with which a car fitted with explosives was driven right past the security gate of Raj Bhawan and was found parked comfortably and abandoned later ? Or the attacks at the official residence of the Chief Minister, including the one which ironically occurred on the raising day of the State Police Department as well as the bomb lobbed at the Assembly Secretariat, some years back. We have cited some of these reasons, for we are inclined to believe that some of the instances which we have mentioned may have goaded the State Government to go in for the state of the art technology to ensure security. However one important question that lies before us is, whether the technology should over ride human expertise in fighting crime or human alertness. We can recall a number of cases, when the police was caught on the wrong foot when a bomb went off bang in the middle of a crowded road or when a woman with a child coolly walks into a shop and pumps in bullets into the heart of the proprietor and saunters away freely. The point is, going in for high tech security gadgets will be useful and helpful according to the system in which it works. What contributions can the proposed CCTVs make, if the police or the law enforcing agencies are not able to keep a tab on its functioning. There is always the prospect of any modern gadgets going the way of the CT Scan machine installed at the then JN Hospital, Porompat. To tap the benefits of technology to its optimum, it is necessary that it gells well with the system which is in place here and judging by the way in which the Lungnila Elizabeth case and the Hrinii Hubert and Muheni Martin case were handled, there is not much reason to be optimistic ? Remember how the State Police or the advisors of the Chief Minister responded when the official residence of the CM was attacked ? There are lessons to be learnt from these gags and one of this is the fact that ideas such as closing the road leading to the CM's quarters to all civilians after a deadline of say 6 pm, following an attack, can only be fodder for reducing the 12 wise men in the Cabinet into some sort of a caricature which has nothing to do with security at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

92 pc or 9.2 pc, it is the same !

This is outrageous and the persons responsible for the fiasco, which looks like a deliberate attempt to insult the intelligence of the public, should be brought to book and judged according to the law of the land. We are referring here to the supposedly ‘official record’ maintained by the Electricity Department, which says that 92 percent of the villages in Manipur have been electrified. Or are they going to say that there was a typographical mistake somewhere and the typist forgot to hit the dot button between 9 and 2 ? This record, we suppose, was fudged to fall in line with the objective of the Centre, which has set 2012 as the deadline for the entire country to be electrified. There is nothing wrong in the Centre to set up such a deadline however impractical or down right impossible it may be, but trying to mislead the public by lying through the teeth should not be tolerated, more so when it comes from the Government Departments. Forget about connecting the villages with High Tension wire which transmits power to the villages, we are apt to believe that none of the Government Departments have any idea on the number of villages existing in the State, or the criteria that goes to define a place as a village. This is more so in the face of displacement due to reasons, such as ethnic conflict like the Naga-Kuki clash of the early 90s or the Kuki-Paite clash in the latter part of the last century. There must be a reason why some jokers in the Electricity Department have come under the impression that they can get away with such an audacious claim and the reason is not far to seek. For too long a Government job has come to mean, freebies or free lunches, in the perception of the public in Manipur, so much so that nothing worthwhile is expected from the Government employees. In fact some of the Government Departments are nothing more than white elephants, which do nothing except drain the State's exchequer and line the pockets of some. Such a culture can thrive only in an atmosphere where the public have been taken for granted by the people who matter and the latest lie coming from the Electricity Department, is but just another manifestation of the overall rot that has become part and parcel of public life in Manipur. There are a few questions we would like to raise here and that is, why the Electricity Department should resort to such a white lie so blatantly. The answer is not far to seek, if we go by the culture of contract works and supply orders and its records. There are bound to be some substances in the observation of the general public that the transformer installed in their neighbourhood was bought from the junk market and installed just to make up for the number and in the process pocket the money meant for purchasing the working and reliable transformer. This cannot happen without the knowledge of the higher ups and it is this unholy nexus among the political netas, the babudom and the professional frauds, who come in different shapes and sizes, which has prospered at the expense of the general public. Another example we can quote is the oft repeated allegations of a village being lit on the day of the inauguration only to find that it has been switched off the next day, which will be for eternity !
‘Logic’ says that to tell the world and to inform those whom the racketeers may be answerable, a record has to be created or fudged to show that so and so villages have been electrified and hence the show of the inaugural function of a village getting electrified or pictures of the responsible people standing proudly by a newly installed transformer, are splashed through the media, of course after paying the requisite advertisement fees. For all we know, the State Electricity Department may have actually ‘used’ all the funds meant to electrify the villages, to line the pockets of, we know who, thereby necessitating the need to whip up such a record to show to Delhi or whoever they are answerable to. There is no guarantee that such an audacious and doctored record are not present in other Government Departments and in all likelihood, all Government Departments may have fudged their official record at one point of time or the other, which reflects the existence of a system where masters in the game of manipulating figures and accounts live off the money meant for the common people. In other words, we may say that the Electricity Department was unfortunate to have been caught with its pants down, while other Departments have escaped scot free. Such is the level to which we have sunk. The recent furore kicked up by the Opposition or more specifically Mr O Joy Singh of the MPP, that the Government is sitting over the recommendations of the Vigilance Department in many cases of large scale corruption, says something very significant. For one, it can mean that the Government is not convinced with the reports submitted by the Vigilance Department and secondly it can mean that it too has a hand in such scams and implementing the recommendations of the Vigilance Department would amount to spitting on one's own face. If the Government finds any loopholes in any of the recommendations made by the Vigilance Department, then a fresh probe may be ordered but since this has not been the case, we can only imagine on what ground the Government is sitting over such sensitive reports. Forget about electrifying 92 percent of the villages in the State, can the Electricity Department say that they have supplied power non-stop to a locality for more than six hours ? Or better still, can it claim to have supplied power for more than six hours in 24 hours in any part of the State ? 92 pc of villages electrified ! This will go down as the lie of the year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The seeds of NIT, JNIMS

First, the opening of the National Institute of Technology and second the realisation of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, the first and only medical institute under the State Government and Chief Minister O Ibobi is once again on a honeymoon trip with fate. We say fate, because, the NIT and JNIMS have come to see the light of the day, not because of any extraordinary efforts by the SPF Government, but because of the universally accepted acknowledgement that “nobody can stop an idea, whose time has come.” In other words, these two institutions have come up because of the demand of the time and the strategic position that Manipur occupies on the map of India. After decades of misconception and misgovernance that bordered more on the discriminatory and the more disagreeable patronising stance, Delhi seems to have come around to the idea that it would be politically suicidal to view Manipur as just another frontier to ensure the security of the Nation, where the answer to everything was sought through the barrel of the guns and controversial Acts like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Though late, this realisation means that Delhi has come to terms with the fact that it can no longer afford to continue with its archaic approach and the only way to counter the threat perception, real or imaginary, from a country like China, is to look eastward and see how it can have a greater say in the region. The much talked about and the highly ambitious Trans-Asian Highway, that aims to connect India with South East Asian countries, rests on the strategic position that Manipur occupies and this is one of the major factors why a paradigm shift on the part of Delhi became necessary. In short, in the eyes of Delhi, infrastructure development in Manipur is a must for the Trans-Asian Highway to come to fruition and among others, the Jiri to Tupul and Tupul to Imphal railway line, under construction right now, is in perfect sync with the recently developed vision of India. The successful opening of the NIT and the JNIMS is but a part of the major transformation that is being witnessed across the world and since Delhi can no longer afford to be in denial mode it had to change its perception towards the North East and learn to look beyond the Brahmaputra or get itself exorcised from the “chicken neck” syndrome. This is not to deny Chief Minister O Ibobi his moment of glory under the Sun and at the risk of being seen as buttering the Chief Minister, we would go as far as stating that the NIT and JNIMS were two of his pet projects. Just recall the number of times he visited the then JN Hospital to see it journey through the many phases and hurdles to ultimately become the JNIMS. One may also recall the resolute stand of the Chief Minister in going ahead with the NIT project, despite the staunch opposition from certain quarters. And mind you, the opposition to its location at Langol had solid merits. Or maybe should we say that the Chief Minister too was compelled by the need of the time and the enforced changed perception of Delhi towards Manipur and the North East to toe the line scripted by the Congress High Command ?
No doubt, the opening of the two institutes will go a long way in serving the interest of the State and her people and it is also in line with the need felt by the country's political leadership to come up with as many IITs and IIMs as possible. In this age of cut throat competition, where there is no room for mediocrity, thorough professionals are the need of the hour, whether it is in engineering, medical or in human resource management or sound financial knowledge, which is a must in the corporate sector, and the two newly opened institutes should hopefully go a long way in producing professionals of high quality. This is where the policy and programme of the Government will gain significance. As Health Minister Ph Parijat noted, there is still a lot to be done at JNIMS, for there is always the possibility of revoking the green signal given by the Medical Council of India (before it was dissolved, following the bribery scandal) if JNIMS does not fulfil the demands of the time. We are sure the same yardstick too will apply in the case of the NIT with the All India Council of Technical Education, keeping a hawk’s eye. This means that the job of the Government has just begun and it has still a lot to do, if the setting up of the said institutions is to give any benefits to the people of Manipur in particular and the North East in general, especially in the backdrop of India looking beyond the border with Myanmar and to get a footing in the affairs of South East Asia. The words of Governor Gurbachan Jagat at the inaugural function of JNIMS, rang loud with wisdom and foresight, especially when he commented on the need for the Government to start looking for ways in which the services of those who pass out from these institutes can be harnessed to its optimum level. That the Governor stressed on the need to start this now is a tacit reminder to the Government to stop its culture of procastination and get things done on time. As things stand today, there are a number of engineering graduates from different institutes, who are yet to land a worthy job in the State, since the Engineering Departments of the State Government are already bursting at its seams and in the absence of major engineering firms, such as say Gammon India or Bharat Earth Movers Ltd etc. No doubt the successful opening of the NIT and JNIMS is a feather in the hat of the Congress led SPF Government, but lest it lulls them into believing that they can remain satisfied by just patting each other on the back, let's remind them that the work has just begun. The two institutions are also a reflection of the standing testimony of Delhi's changed perception towards Manipur and the North East, in the face of the fast changing power equation in South East Asia, with China now replacing Japan as the second biggest economy in the world after the US. Sources:- http://thesangaiexpress.com

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PM’s address to the Nation on Independence-Day

“Dear citizens,
I greet you on the 63rd anniversary of our independence. When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolour on this historic Red Fort, on 15th August, 1947, he called himself the first servant of India. I address you today in the same spirit of service.
A few days back, many precious lives were lost in Ladakh due to a cloudburst. I convey my heart felt condolences to the family members and other near and dear ones of those who have perished. In this hour of grief, the whole country stands with the people of Ladakh. It is my assurance that the Central Government will do everything possible for rehabilitation of the affected people.
When I addressed you last year on Independence Day, our country was facing a number of difficulties. There was a drought like situation in many parts of the country. We were also affected by the global economic slow down. I am happy to say that we have acquitted ourselves well in these difficult circumstances. Despite many problems, the rate of our economic growth has been better than most other countries in the world. This shows the strength of our economy.
This strength has been evident not only in the last one year but also in our economic progress in the last many years. Today, India stands among the fastest growing economies of the world. As the world’s largest democracy, we have become an example for many other countries to emulate. Our citizens have the right to make their voice heard. Our country is viewed with respect all over the world. Our views command attention in international fora.
All of you have contributed to India’s success. The hard work of our workers, our artisans, our farmers has brought our country to where it stands today. I specially salute our soldiers whose bravery ensures the safety of our borders. I pay tribute to all those martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
We are building a new India in which every citizen would have a stake, an India which would be prosperous and in which all citizens would be able to live a life of honour and dignity in an environment of peace and goodwill. An India in which all problems could be solved through democratic means. An India in which the basic rights of every citizen would be protected. In the last few years, we have taken many significant steps in this direction. Every person living in rural areas now has the assurance of 100 days of employment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The Right to Information Act is helping our citizens to become more aware. This year our Government has enacted the Right to Education which will help every Indian to share in the benefits of the country’s economic progress and also to contribute to it. To ensure equal partnership of women in our progress, we have taken initiative for reservation for women in Parliament and in State legislatures. Apart from this, reservation for women has been increased to 50 per cent in local bodies.
Despite our many strengths, we face some serious challenges. We should resolve today that we will meet these challenges as one people. Our society often gets divided in the name of religion, State, caste or language. We should resolve that we will not allow divisions in our society under any circumstance. Tolerance and generosity have been a part of our traditions. We should strengthen these traditions. As we progress economically our society should also become more sensitive. We should be modern and progressive in our outlook.
Our Government has laid special emphasis on the welfare of our farmers and on increasing agricultural production. After we came to power in 2004, we realized that the state of Indian agriculture in the preceding 7-8 years was not satisfactory. Our Government increased public investment in agriculture. We started new schemes for increasing production. We encouraged agricultural planning at the district level. I am happy that the growth rate of our agriculture has increased substantially in the last few years. But we are still far from achieving our goal. We need to work harder so that we can increase the agricultural growth rate to 4 percent per annum.
Our Government wants a food safety net in which no citizen of ours would go hungry. This requires enhanced agricultural production which is possible only by increasing productivity. Our country has not witnessed any big technological breakthrough in agriculture after the Green Revolution. We need technology which would address the needs of dry land agriculture. In addition, our agriculture should also be able to deal with new challenges like climate change, falling levels of ground water and deteriorating quality of soil. In the history of Indian agriculture, Norman Borlaug commands a special place. About 40 to 50 years back he developed new and more productive seeds of wheat. Under the leadership of Smt. Indira Gandhiji, India achieved the Green Revolution by adopting these seeds. I am happy to announce that the Borlaug Institute of South Asia is being established in India. This institute would facilitate availability of new and improved seeds and new technology to the farmers of India and other countries of South Asia.
We have always taken care to provide remunerative prices to farmers so that they are encouraged to increase production. Support prices have been increased every year in the last six years. The support price for wheat was enhanced to Rs.1,100 per quintal last year from Rs.630 per quintal in 2003-04. In paddy, this increase was from Rs.550 per quintal to Rs.1,000 per quintal. But one effect of providing higher prices to farmers is that food prices in the open market also increase.
I know that in the last few months high inflation has caused you difficulties. It is the poor who are the worst affected by rising prices, especially when the prices of commodities of every day use like foodgrains, pulses, vegetables increase. It is for this reason that we have endeavored to minimize the burden of increased prices on the poor. Today, I do not want to go into the detailed reasons for high inflation. But, I would certainly like to say that we are making every possible effort to tackle this problem. I am also confident that we will succeed in these efforts.
It is obvious that any person or institution cannot spend more than his income over a long period of time, even if it is the Government. It is our responsibility that we manage our economy with prudence so that our development is not affected adversely in the future because of high debt. We import about 80 percent of our requirement of petroleum products. After 2004, we have increased the prices of petroleum products much less compared to the increase in the price of crude oil in the international market. The subsidy on petroleum products has been increasing every year. It had become necessary therefore to increase the prices of petroleum products. If this had not been done, it would not have been possible for our budget to bear the burden of subsidy and our programmes for education, health and employment of the poor would have been adversely affected.
In the 63 years after independence, India has covered a long distance on the path of development. But our destination is still far away. A large part of our population still suffers from persistent poverty, hunger and disease. When our Government came to power in 2004, we resolved to build a new India under a progressive social agenda. We wanted the fruits of development to reach the common man. We initiated programmes especially targeted to the welfare of the socially and economically backward sections of our society. We still stand committed to the welfare of the poor, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, minorities, women and other backward sections of our society. But today we do not need many new programmes to achieve our goals. However, we do need to implement the schemes we have already started more effectively, minimizing the chances of corruption and misuse of public money. We want to achieve this in partnership with the State Governments, Panchayat Raj Institutions and civil society groups.
Secularism is one of the pillars of our democracy. It has been the tradition of our country and society to treat all religions with equal respect. For centuries India has welcomed new religions and all have flourished here. Secularism is also our constitutional obligation. Our Government is committed to maintain communal peace and harmony. We also consider it our duty to protect the minorities and provide for their special needs. This is why we have started many new programmes in the last four years for the welfare of our brothers and sisters belonging to the minority communities. These include scholarships for minority students and special programmes for the development of districts which have a high concentration of minorities. These schemes have shown good results. We will vigorously take this work forward.
We have been giving special attention to education and health in the last six years. Improvement in these two areas is an important component of our strategy for inclusive growth. It is also necessary for higher economic growth in the years to come. After independence, these two areas could not get the importance they deserved. We tried to change this state of affairs in the 11th Plan. Today, almost every child in our country has access to primary education.
Now, we need to pay more attention to secondary and higher education. We also need to improve the quality of education at all levels. It is our endeavour that every child, irrespective of whether he is rich or poor and which section of the society he belongs to, should be given an education that enables him to realize his potential and makes him a responsible citizen of our country. We will continue to implement the new schemes that we have started in the last six years in the areas of education and health with sincerity and hard work and in partnership with the State Governments. We will soon bring a Bill to Parliament for constitution of two separate councils in higher education and health respectively so that reforms in these two areas can be accelerated.
Nutritious food and good health services are necessary but not enough for ensuring good health of our citizens. We also need cleanliness and good sanitation in our villages, towns and cities. There are many diseases which would be difficult to prevent otherwise. The truth is that our country lags behind in this area. I consider it a primary responsibility of all our citizens to maintain cleanliness and hygiene around them. I would like our children to be taught the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in schools from the very beginning under a campaign for a Clean India. I appeal to the State Governments, Panchayat Raj Institutions, civil society groups and common citizens to make this campaign successful.
Mahatma Gandhi had said that our earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. Imprudent use of the earth’s natural resources has resulted in the problem of climate change. We need to use our natural resources with care and prudence. It is our responsibility towards the coming generations to protect and preserve our forests, rivers and mountains. Our government will endeavour to take care of environmental concerns in our projects for economic development.
There is a large deficit in our physical infrastructure which affects our economic development adversely. There is a shortfall in the supply of electricity to industries. Our roads, ports and airports are not of world standards. We have been trying to increase electricity production and improve our roads, ports and airports. The resources required to create good physical infrastructure are difficult for the Government alone to mobilize. Therefore, we have endeavoured to involve the private sector in our efforts.
The steps that we have taken after 2004 to improve our physical infrastructure have started bearing fruit now. About one and half a months back, I dedicated a new terminal of the Delhi airport to the nation. This is an excellent terminal which has been completed in record time. We will continue to make such efforts to improve our physical infrastructure.
There has been much discussion recently on the issue of internal security. If law and order in any part of India deteriorates or peace and harmony gets disturbed, the common man is adversely affected. Therefore, it is one of the primary responsibilities of any government to maintain law and order so that the citizens can live and earn their livelihood in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Naxalism is a serious challenge to our internal security. I pay tribute to the men and officers of our security forces who have became martyrs in the attacks by Naxalites in the last few months. I have stated this before and I say it again - our Government will fully discharge its responsibility to protect each and every citizen of our country. We will deal firmly with those who resort to violence. We will provide all possible help to State Governments to maintain the rule of law in areas affected by Naxalism. I once again appeal to Naxalites to abjure violence, come for talks with the Government and join hands with us to accelerate social and economic development. A few days back I took a meeting with the Chief Ministers of States affected by Naxalism. We will fully implement the consensus that emerged in that meeting. I would like to repeat here a point that I made in that meeting. It is imperative that Centre and States work together to meet the challenge of Naxalism. It would be very difficult for any State to tackle this problem without cooperation from the Centre and coordination between States. We all need to rise above our personal and political interests to meet this challenge.
As I have stated earlier, most Naxalite affected areas lag behind in development. Many such areas also have a large concentration of our adivasi brothers and sisters. We want to end the neglect of these areas. I have asked the Planning Commission to formulate a comprehensive scheme towards this end, which we would implement fully. It is also our endeavour that our adivasi brothers and sisters join the mainstream of development. They have been dependent on forest produce for centuries and this dependence should not end without the creation of new sources of livelihood. Apart from adequate compensation for land which is acquired from them, we should also ensure that our adivasi brothers and sisters have a stake in the developmental project being undertaken.
I would like to state one more thing in this context. It is very necessary to make the administrative machinery more sensitive in areas affected by Naxalism. The government officials who work there should not only be sincere but should also be alive to the special needs of our adivasi brothers and sisters. It is my hope that the State Governments will pay adequate attention to these requirements.
We have a special responsibility towards the States of the North East. We are trying to live up to that responsibility. The North Eastern part of our country has been witness to some unpleasant incidents in the recent months. I would like to convey to all political parties and groups of the North East that disputes in the name of State or tribe can only harm all of us. Discussion and dialogue are the only options to resolve complex issues. As far as the Central Government is concerned, we are ready to take forward every process of talks which could lead to progress in resolution of problems.
In Jammu and Kashmir, we are ready to talk to every person or group which abjures violence. Kashmir is an integral part of India. Within this framework, we are ready to move forward in any talks which would increase the partnership of the common man in governance and also enhance their welfare. Recently, some young men have lost their lives in violence in Jammu and Kashmir. We deeply regret this. The years of violence should now end. Such violence would not benefit anyone. I believe that India’s democracy has the generosity and flexibility to be able to address the concerns of any area or group in the country. I recently participated in a meeting with political parties from Jammu and Kashmir. We will endeavour to take this process forward. I would like to convey to our countrymen, especially our citizens in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North East, that they should adopt democratic means to join hands with us for their and country’s welfare.
We want prosperity, peace and harmony in our neighbouring countries. Whatever differences we have with our neighbouring countries, we want to resolve them through discussions. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we expect from them that they would not let their territory be used for acts of terrorism against India. We have been emphasizing this in all our discussions with the Pakistan Government. If this is not done, we cannot progress far in our dialogue with Pakistan.
I would also like to say something which is related to our glorious cultural traditions. The use of harsh and unpleasant words in our political discourse has increased in recent days. This is against our traditions of generosity, humility and tolerance. Criticism has a place of its own in a democracy and in a progressive society. However, criticism should not be undignified. We should have the capacity to reconcile opposite points of view on important issues through debate and discussion. I would request all political parties to consider this issue.
The Commonwealth Games will start in Delhi after about one and a half months. This will be a proud moment for the whole country and especially for Delhi. I am convinced that all our countrymen will treat the Games as a national festival and will leave no stone unturned to make them a success. The successful organization of Commonwealth Games would be another signal to the world that India is rapidly marching ahead with confidence.
Our future is bright. The day when our dreams will come true is not far off. Let us all resolve on this anniversary of our independence that we will keep the flag of our nation flying high. Let us march ahead together on the path of progress and prosperity.
Dear children, please say Jai Hind with me. JAI HIND, JAI HIND, JAI HIND.”

NE in Tryst with Destiny

We have now stepped into the 64th year since making our tryst with destiny on August 15, 1947, and as in preceding years, the same question continues to haunt us and that is whether the present India is what Nehru had in mind when he famously addressed the Nation with his Tryst with Destiny speech way back in 1947. The birth of India as a Nation was not without its share of turmoil and heart burns and one just has to recollect the blood and gore during the Partition, when human beings were slaughtered by fellow human beings blinded by hatred and a rage within, which could be calmed down by butchering the ones on the other side. If Gandhiji led the Freedom Movement with his unique Ahimsa or non-violence philosophy, the violence, bloodshed and gore under which India and Pakistan emerged as two different countries, after the British left, tells the journey of a Nation in idea, founded on the message of peace and brotherly co-existence to a Nation born with blood. It is not without any reason that the Partition is often cited as an example, when any deep divide arises along communal affiliations or ethnic ties. After Gandhi, the job was then left to Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and others to propagate the idea of India as a Nation to all the provinces which were hitherto under the British Raj. And in propagating the idea of an Indian Nation, no one can claim to be a holy cow, for the politics of betrayal, threat and intimidations were often resorted to and the fruit of such an approach can today be seen in North East India, where a number of rebel groups have emerged to engage the Indian armed forces in a bush war for decades. The Nagas raised the banner of independence on August 14, 1947 one day ahead of India, while Manipur reverted to its earlier status as a sovereign State, which had its own system of governance. Tripura also experienced the same story of Manipur, with the then incumbent king or queen signing the controversial Merger Agreement under dubious and controversial circumstances. It is the thorn of the political double speak, high treason and betrayal, whether imagined or factually correct, that surrounds the Merger Agreement, which continues to prick the very idea of an India as a Nation, at least in the North East. This has provided the perfect launching pad for armed insurgency to mushroom in almost all the States in the region. The Naga armed movement seems to have come to a closed chapter, despite the occasional threats and rantings from its leaders and earlier we saw how Mizoram was able to regain its sanity after decades of bush war and violence, thanks to the Mizo Accord of 1986. In Manipur, there is nothing that offers us a glimpse of hope that a solution is in sight and instead the trouble or problem besetting this State of some 25 odd lakh population seem to be getting more and more complicated with each passing year. Today, it is not only a question of surviving the violence that we see all around, in the form of bombs being planted at the residence of some individual, ambushes on security personnel, street wars or pitched battle between the women vigilantes and the Government over the continued imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and most significantly, the growing ethnic divide between the Nagas of Manipur and the Meiteis over the Greater Lim issue which has come to take the form of economic blockades on the National Highways and counter blockades in the valley areas.
This is Manipur in brief, after 63 years of independence and however much we would like to believe that this is not what Nehru had in mind, when India made her tryst with destiny on August 15, 1947, the bitter reality lies in the question of whether the idea of India as a Nation has taken firm roots across the length and breadth of the country. The North East does not figure in the National Anthem, with due respect to Rabindranath Tagore, nor are its multifarious culture and uniqueness reflected in the National flag. The very fact that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in his address to the Nation on Independence Day on August 15 from the Red Fort in Delhi, made a specific reference to the North East, says something about where the region figure in the overall scheme of things in the present Government and we would like to say, it is rather encouraging. It is on occasions like Independence Day and Republic Day, that the finer nuances of the agenda of the Government of the day, can be understood. The Nation already knows the stance of the Centre and particularly the stand of the Prime Minister on the Maoists and the “biggest internal threat to India” quip by Dr Manmohan Singh could not have been an off the cuff remark but was stated after taking into considerations all the facts and circumstances. A whole gamut of issues were touched upon by the Prime Minister ranging from the flash floods at Leh, which has taken a heavy toll on human lives to the economy of the country, which was described as encouraging. We are not economists or financial analysts, but the optimistic message by the Prime Minister is encouraging and does not sound like some political rantings, given his academic background. The speech to the Nation by itself is an annual affair, and to some, it may have lost its relevance, but to States like Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the North East, the Prime Minister's speech offers us a glimpse of the political agenda in the mind of the Government. Taken this into consideration, we feel, the Prime Minister's speech, while referring to the North East, “I would like to convey to all political parties and groups of the North East that disputes in the name of States or tribes can only harm us,” is replete with meaning and will surely not miss the eyes of the NSCN (IM) leaders and the people of Manipur. This is the second time that two Prime Ministers from different political parties have managed to subtly but effectively put across their message on the Lim issue and the first was Atal Behari Vajpayee, who said that the issue needs a political consensus of all concerned, while addressing a meeting at Kohima when the NDA was in power !