All entries for October 2005

October 25, 2005

It's the Policies, Stupid!

India Cause, 25.10.2005

It was third time unlucky for the self-professed ‘big beast’ of the Tories, as Ken Clarke was voted out- again- of a party leadership contest on Tuesday. He was beaten to the pole by both the right-winger Liam Fox as well as ‘baby Blair’ ala David Cameron. For Mr Cameron, this is a much-needed boost to prove to his critics that questions about his personal life are largely irrelevant to the party MPs.

Indeed, opinion polls show that more undecided voters are likely to vote Conservative if Mr Cameron becomes the leader vis-à-vis Mr Clarke, whose European policy still irks the typical Tory, and who’s a little too old to harp about modernising and upgrading the party’s outlook.

Peter Lilley, a former cabinet minister, argued-“If we all are going to require every potential candidate for the leadership or the Prime Ministership to go through all the seven deadly sins and say they have never committed them, then all we will choose is somebody who is good at lying.” So how many sins do we examine a candidate against? And who determines which sin it is to be?

To be fair to Mr Lilley, and moving away from cynicism, he does have a point. As a Times poll of Conservative Association chairmen revealed, a majority respected Mr Cameron’s decision to remain silent in the face of scathing attacks on him having taken cocaine at university. The general picture that emerges is one of sympathy- the man may’ve erred when he was a hot blooded irrational student, but don’t hold that against him now. Perhaps his experiences during his “normal university life” was blown out of proportion with the recent revelation of the supermodel Kate Moss’ drug dabbling.

Both Liam Fox and Ken Clarke have taken indirect and subtle swipes at Mr Cameron over this issue in the past week. Even his wife Samantha has not been spared the media glare. That is unfortunate. What should be of concern to us is whether he has a tendency to go ‘soft’ on the government’s drug policy.

In an article in the Mail, Mr Cameron vigorously denies this charge. He needs to be given the benefit of doubt. After all, even if he was a drug addict in the past, the sheer strength of character needed to overcome the addiction is immense. We all make decisions which we rue with the benefit of hindsight. And that repentance is what counts.

On the larger question of separating the public and private spheres, liberals take their inspiration from John Stuart Mill, who vigorously defended the individual’s right to privacy from the glare of the public eye. Indeed, every individual- including public servants like politicians- needs a personal space where his actions should be tolerated if they do not harm others. In the words of John Rawls, “Liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty”.

His policies should be the only criterion to judge David Cameron.

And so it should be everywhere, except India. Why the anomaly? Well, for starters, our politicians- or the vast majority of them- tend to bring the glaring flaws in their private lives into the public sphere. Charlatans and fraudsters continue their practices, the only difference being that they do it with the public money.

As for policies, woh kya cheez hai? Most of them come to power either on the basis of their religious or caste background, or riding on dynasty or benefiting from a warped sense of avant garde nationalism.


Letter to the Editor–Warwick Boar

The Warwick Boar, 24.10.2005

Dear Editor,

I picked up on Warwick’s “Singapore fiasco” a little later than others, but now that I have, the choice of Singapore as a destination for providing Warwick with the much-needed “international profile” baffles me. The issues about freedom of expression and academic enquiry that are at the heart of the controversy were always there – why the Council failed to realise the stringent Singaporean rules regarding this earlier eludes me. Moreover, is Singapore really a viable destination to tap into a large potential market for overseas students?

In my opinion a much better option for an international Warwick campus would be India. To begin with, there are already hundreds of Indian students at Warwick which makes the institution quite familiar among student circles there. Then there are the beauties of freedom of expression and democracy which Warwick can benefit from. Moreover, set-up and operating costs would be much lower in India, both due to the cheaper cost of living and the availability of well-qualified academics in eminent institutions there. General levels of English proficiency are yet another factor in its favour.

David VanDeLinde would be much better served by shelving the Singapore idea and refocusing on a Warwick India venture.

Aruni Mukherjee, BA History/Politics, Final Year


October 24, 2005

Want a Scholarship? Be Innovative!

Rediff, 24.10.2005

Indians who go abroad to study can be divided into three categories:

~ The brilliant ones who come out on top after many rounds of the scholarship evaluation process

~ Those backed with enough financial resources from their families

~ Those who simply get 'lucky'

This means those who could not make it have ample scope for lame excuses. I believe otherwise — I think everyone who works hard has shot.

Visa application

You have two options after graduation: to return to India or to find a job abroad.

I would imagine every aspiring middle class student would want to help his family repay the enormous debt they incurred to send him overseas. Besides, his family may be expecting him to settle down there.

Unfortunately, you have no easy way out; a vast majority of employers will not sponsor your work permit. The Fortune 500 companies definitely will, as will some others, but the competition is fierce.

In such cases, a quintessential desi subject should see you through — graduates in electronics engineering, medicine, computer science, etc, are needed by the Western economies. But if you are like me and want to study Humanities and Social Sciences, you've got to grind your teeth and keep plugging at the job market.

Try not to do what I have seen some Indians do — study for a degree you don't really enjoy in order to get a job here.

I went to an English public school and, during the visa application process, the visa officer asked why I wasn't looking at eminent boarding schools in India — she even cited the Doon School in Dehra Dun.

However, I was looking to specialise early and across streams — History and Politics with IT and Business Studies — which the inflexibility of our system does not allow.

She insisted I could do my A-level courses in India, to which I replied that such a pursuit would be minus the facilities provided by Brentwood School, where I had got admission.

I knew I'd hit the right button. There was no way she could have even come close to arguing that such facilities exist in India. Be it sports, or any other extracurricular activity, or research related guidance and support, it was all there at Brentwood. The world is at your fingertips, material published on that day in the farthest corners of the world will be at your desktop. In India, the newest available edition of a book I wanted was dated 1960.

How did I find out about the schools in England? Through the World Wide Web.

Then the questions moved on to funding — since I had won a scholarship, there were little problems there.

Parents

Parental support can be a huge stimulus. On the other hand, parental disapproval can nip your ambitions in the bud. Fortunately, my parents never got in the way. They were, ultimately, hugely supportive.

When your 15-year-old son tells you he wants to go abroad to study and live on his own, you can't blame parents for freaking out just a little. Among other things, the fact that they had to pay for all this must have crossed their minds as well. After I won the scholarship, though, their resistance was purely emotional.

Since then, I couldn't have asked for more supportive parents. I think my mother is secretly happy; she knew I was being stifled by the education system.

I know that, despite my endeavours, my parents still have to foot a hefty financial and mental bill to support my educational and living expenses. But, every time I speak to my father on the phone, he gives me the impression he's got everything under control.

That pretence — I know it is just that — is precious!

Scholarships

How did I win the scholarship? I researched a number of top UK schools on the Internet, and applied to a good number of them to increase my probability of getting through. I applied for some need-based bursaries and some academic-based scholarships as well.

Since every school has a different administration procedure, there is no uniform application method. You've just got to go to each school one by one and follow their instructions. It's not like UCAS, when you send off six copies of an application to six universities.

I was offered some bursaries and academic-based scholarships on the basis of both, but most were not enough to cover a large enough chunk of the massive fee bill. I decided to do something out of the box — I submitted some papers I had written on historical and political issues to the concerned departments as proof of my genuine interest in the subjects and explained I deserved special consideration. It worked! The department head was impressed (I became his favourite student before even joining the school) and he recommended the amount of my scholarship be raised.

I don't remember thanking Lady Luck for my success, though I may have thanked God. The numerous sleepless nights I spent worrying about the outcome of my application, the various books and journals I read to research for the papers I was preparing and the many rejections I had received before I succeeded never once made me feel unlucky.

You may not be born with a silver spoon, but you can pick up your food and eat it with your hands.

My Struggle

Customer Service Assistant — that's what they called me at my first job in the UK. I then moved on to being an administrative assistant (it's like being a receptionist) until I finally got a research assistantship.

Working for the resume was not sufficient, I had to work the full 20 hours allowed to students under the law per week to make ends meet.

Having nowhere to stay during vacations (hotels being outrageously expensive!) I cleaned floors and stacked books at the Ramakrishna Mission in return for food and shelter.

But, hey, I did it! I passed high school from a British institution.

I did not qualify for most scholarships while applying for my degree at Warwick University because I hold an Indian passport. So I decided to apply for various grants and was awarded the Sidney Perry Foundation Grant. Unfortunately, it amounted to a mere £ 500 (Rs 40,000) which, of course, is not enough. Academic fees can run into £ 8,000 (approximately Rs 639,923) a year and that's only for a degree in the Humanities. I continued with my part-time jobs.

Another chapter of struggle begins as I look towards doing my master's degree in the UK. I've got my admission and the hunt for funding has begun.

Brushes with Racism

Though racism is absent on the surface, it brews in the deeper strata of society. I did face some amount of racism in school. Initially, this was disturbing; later, it became monotonous.

Yes, you may have some losers in life hurling abuses at you after a football match or a round of binge drinking so just be careful about which streets you venture into.

This kind of life is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those who yearn for good fortune to drop like a pie from the sky.

Epilogue

As far as I am concerned, luck and fluke are synonymous terms. I would advise anyone planning to go abroad not to count on them.

Those of you who never thought they even had a shot at going abroad to study — remember, no matter how unlucky you consider yourself in life, it doesn't matter when it comes to this. As long as you have what it takes to live life on the edge, and have a long-term plan for where your life should go, you'll do just fine.

Aruni Mukherjee, 19, is a final year undergraduate at Warwick University. He moved to England at the age of 15 in 2001. He writes to erase common misconceptions among students who plan to pursue their studies abroad.


October 21, 2005

Asia Times Letters

The editors of Asia Times Online need to filter out repetitive rants in their Letters section. How on earth can Frank claim that his arguments have not been refuted, less so accepted? On the contrary, my constant portrayal of a markedly common past shared by India and China and the inherent hypocrisy underlying his arguments have been met with nothing but deafening silence. He argues in his [Oct 20] letter that India did not invent anything of substance. I quote Albert Einstein when he was awarded the Nobel Prize: "We owe a lot to the Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could be made." What about the path-breaking work in astronomy in ancient India by the likes of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, who showed through their mathematical models the Earth's rotation and revolution? This was many years before Galileo. What about Panini's grammar, which forms the basis of modern Indo-European grammar? What about Baudhayana's proving of the theorem that took centuries for Pythagoras to figure out? What about ayurveda? If Frank has heard of none of these, he must have heard of the Kama Sutra. I consider myself a "common Indian" – the one which Frank claims stays quiet, resigning himself to his fate. He'd be surprised at the high turnout rates in Indian elections, especially in the rural areas. Indians are empowered people living in a free society, and they know how to express their will. Just recall the 2004 elections. This discussion is fast sinking to the levels of pure mudslinging, treading dangerously on the line between argument and racism. I hope sanity prevails before the line is crossed, by Frank of course. This discussion belongs to The Edge and not Letters, which should be for discussing articles in the newspaper.

October 20, 2005

Asia Times Letters

At the risk of oversimplification, it could be argued that Francesco Sisci's article [Is China headed for a social 'red alert'? Oct 20] on protests in "socialist" China over the increasingly visible inequality levels (higher than in capitalist America and Britain) [is] a testimony to what an opportunity cost China is incurring due to its opaque political system. The value of qualification, deliberation, scrutiny and accountability are of utmost importance when it comes to realpolitik or political economy, especially in an important issue such as economic transition. A comparative situation could be seen in India's West Bengal, where Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya is receiving flak from the opposition over laying a red carpet to foreign capital, or the government in Delhi, which faces questions from its communist allies in parliament. Such practices might delay reforms, but they will ensure that all arguments for and against have been laid on the table, and the consequent decision has a greater probability of being justified in the long term. China's environmental degradation, raging inequality, non-performing assets in banks and a rampant cadre-company nexus are all attributes of translucency. As the author mentions, it is only when the party decides to unveil fresh data that the world gets to know what lies dormant behind the gleaming Pudong skyline. We need an "Argumentative Chinese", and we need her now.

Stop Pretending

The Telegraph, 20.10.05

It is hard to believe the levels Indian politics can sink to. Are we now expected to think that the solution to all caste-related problems is abolishing surnames (“Slash surname to kill caste”, Oct 15)? The National Commission for Scheduled Castes seems to have lost all sense of direction. There are ample laws and policies for backward castes enshrined in our Constitution and guaranteed by our courts. The commission should be lobbying with the government to implement these laws in far-flung rural areas and to make them more effective, rather than come up with ridiculous ideas. Will social hierarchies automatically vanish if a low-caste person suddenly drops his surname? Discriminations will continue, and the only way to resolve them is through institutional reform and the introduction of market-friendly policies that would ensure that only the best are hired by employers, irrespective of their caste status. For reservations contribute to the social exclusion of low-caste people, who are seen to make it through the backdoor. More fundamentally, the emancipation of one cannot lie in the deprivation of another.

What is frustrating is that the Congress has reportedly accepted the proposal “on principle”. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party has not been as emphatic in its rejection. Indians would make themselves the laughing stock of the world if they flaunt this kind of social egalitarianism.


October 19, 2005

Asia Times Letters

Ramtanu Mitra's otherwise comprehensive article [India bids to rule the waves, Oct 19] has one point where it needs to be updated: India has recently indicated that it is going to re-route the proposed gas pipeline through its northeast rather than go through Bangladesh. Presumably this is due to Delhi's dissatisfaction with Dhaka's security arrangements, and its frustration [at] the latter's delaying tactics over the deal. This potentially significant development has been ignored by the author. Frank [letter, Oct 18]: if not learning English means preserving your "pride and dignity", shall we conclude that China is hell-bent on giving up its store of these, as its leaders go all out to increase English proficiency in the country?

October 18, 2005

Growing Big

The Telegraph, 18.10.2005

S.L. Rao makes an important point in his article, “Making it work better” (Oct 10), but he could be 25 years too late in coming out with it. Yes, manufacturing is important but only pro tanto. This is because India has very little room for manoeuvre in the competitive international market. On the high end, there are countries with cutting-edge technologies such as Japan or South Korea, and on the lower end, there are countries with huge manufacturing capabilities — often catering to companies from the upper end of the market — such as China or Vietnam. We have missed the bus in the Seventies; when we were supposed to liberalize our “import substitution” regime and promote manufacturing, we were content with the abysmal “Hindu rate of growth”.

In 2005, India is mainly a service-sector economy — and that is where its unique selling point lies. We have nothing to attract foreign investors in manufacturing — stringent labour laws, poor infrastructure, slow-moving babus are deterrents enough. The strength of our economy lies in software development, research and development, business process outsourcing and hopefully, knowledge-process outsourcing in the future. There is nothing wrong about this model. It is also not true that providing jobs en masse in a service-sector economy is a problem. After all, ever since Margaret Thatcher abandoned an uncompetitive manufacturing sector in Britain, Europe’s second largest economy has also been its fastest growing and most prosperous, with one of the lowest rates of unemployment.

There are two compelling arguments in favour of promoting manufacturing. One, that you should not keep all your eggs in the same basket, that is, one must always promote diversified growth. Two, no sector within the economy should be strangled or its growth impeded. But in essence, the importance of manufacturing has now diminished: India in that respect has the potential to be a 21st century economy, while China is rebuilding a 19th-century model.


October 16, 2005

Selling Sports

The Telegraph, 16.10.2005

Sumanta Sen takes a myopic view of things in “Ready, steady, go” (Oct 6). Why would corporates put their money in football clubs who never win anything at the international level? If the money was used simply to send teams abroad to play — and lose — matches, that would be useless. We need to channel resources towards integrating sports with the primary and secondary school curriculum. Once we reduce the burden of books and encourage our children to go out and play more, half of our job is done. Money should be spent on gyms, playing grounds, equipment and professional training at schools from a very young age. I don’t see young children being escorted by their parents to coaching centres in Britain. They have all they want in their schools.

Cricket has developed infrastructure at the grass roots in the form of the burgeoning coaching centres for kids. But we have failed to enmesh even this much-loved sport in the mainstream education system, where children can pursue it without fearing about their studies being hampered. It would also give them a much better physical training and focussed approach, which would help develop a more professional attitude towards sports.


October 15, 2005

Spot the Corrruption

The Telegraph, 23.09.2005

Once and for all, there is no relation between economic liberalization and surrendering of a nation’s sovereignty. If India sells textiles to Europe throwing the latter’s industry into turmoil, is the former somehow politically subjugating it? No, because Europe can export capital goods to us, for instance. For Ashok Mitra’s information, this is the whole concept of inter-dependence.

Second, if foreign companies open factories in India employing erstwhile-unemployed Indians, it increases the incentive for domestic companies to become more competitive and in the process, expand to acquire economies of scale and hire more workers.

Third, the left is not exactly the epitome of anti-corruption. Fourth, it is debatable whether a strife-torn BJP would be able to come to power if the left ceases to compromise on its morals and causes the UPA government to fall. The reason why the comrades are not pulling the string is because mid-term elections could pave the way for a Congress-majority government. That could deny our comrades their little place in the sun.


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