Dilli’s New Normal: Calling, Texting, and Tapping!

If you haven’t smelt the fragrance, Delhi, these days, has become synonymous with phone tapping and stings. Suspicion and conspiracy have become the default human thought process, favorite collective pastimes.

Before AAP was born in 2012, the act of electronic recording was raising hackles of the conscious at the very least. But today, Delhi’s aam aadmi thinks tapping is just as natural as calling or texting. Anybody with a phone can record any conversation, audio or video or both — either as a participant or a third party. Sometimes you might end up with multiple recordings of the same conversation! After all, the city is peopled with self-righteous, honest souls whose sole motive is nothing but to curb corruption from the face of Mother Earth.

Gone are the good-old days of prior intimation and permission to record conversations (unless you were a threat to national security — all bets are off then). Post-AAP victory, if your phone buzzes and you pick the call, you’ve already consented to tapping. The recording can be released anytime, anywhere; it’s your job to keep a tab on TV breaking news to know your turn of fate.

Stinging of Delhi CM who urged everyone to sting everyone else. (ref: IndiaTV)

Twist in the tale: Just as how terrorists turn against their own creators/protectors of yesterday, those who sting (or urge others to sting) can also get stung tomorrow. It’s truly a free for all: overly democratic, truly inclusive, all-pervasive, tit-for-tat, and very very open! The only democratically-elected CM of the country who openly calls for tapping and stinging others without permission got a taste of his own medicine.

Raising the “elitist, academic” issue of privacy only evokes laughter, yawns, and jeers along the lines: “Do you support corruption?” If you so much as protest, you probably have an ugly underbelly to hide because of your political affinity — “Dude, you sure aren’t an AAP supporter, are you?” After all, nearly 60% of the city population wholeheartedly put their stamp of approval on this “vigilante justice” culture in Feb 2015.

Maybe I am still an #OldFashioned traditionalist who cares about the sanctity and privacy of conversations. God bless you, Delhi, but thank god I wasn’t born or ever lived within your boundaries!

I intend to remain free, and freedom isn’t something I’ll sacrifice in a hurry. Thank you for teaching other cities of India what NOT to be!

Should Physicists learn Sanksrit? Or should Poets learn Physics?

Consider the anomaly:

  • When you see a Physics concept written in English, you approach a physicist to interpret it for you.
  • When you see the same (or likely even more profound) concept written in Sanskrit, you go to a Sanskrit poet to interpret it for you.

Guru Prasad shared a couple of quotes on the basis of quantum theory recently, which I will reproduce here. Further references are in the comments section of his Facebook posts:

“The one peculiar attribute we find in time, space, and causation is that they cannot exist separate from other things. Try to think of space without colour, or limits, or any connection with the things around — just abstract space. You cannot; you have to think of it as the space between two limits or between three objects. It has to be connected with some object to have any existence. So with time; you cannot have any idea of abstract time, but you have to take two events, one preceding and the other succeeding, and join the two events by the idea of succession. Time depends on two events, just as space has to be related to outside objects. And the idea of causation is inseparable from time and space.” – Swami Vivekananda (1896)

“Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.” – Albert Einstein (1952)

“Swami Vivekananda expresses a view that has become the backbone of quantum theory”
– Michael Coleman Talbot (American author of several books highlighting parallels between ancient mysticism and quantum mechanics)

It is unfair both on the poet to do justice to this profound knowledge as well as unfair for our ancient texts to be taken to poets alone for interpretation. You’ll then be excused if you laugh off the so-called “physics knowledge” in ancient Vedic texts after hearing the colorful lectures from the poet. You’ll also be excused if you reach a conclusion that every scientific theory known to mankind was indeed invented in the rational, “modern” West.

India’s aim for the next decade should be to get scientists the world over to understand Sanskrit. Not the other way ’round! Go Ms. Smriti Zubin Irani, the Nation is with you!

I attended Kalavai Venkat‘s lecture this weekend, and I got thinking.

Rs. 80,000 Per Month Game Plan to Retain a Posh Lutyen’s Bungalow!

Post-elections, I have desisted from posting anything negative about Arvind Kejriwal. I think it is not right to beat a person who is already down.

However, I decided to come out of my self-imposed censorship due to something extremely fishy about this man’s ethics. And it relates to… his official bungalow of course. This was the same bungalow on Tilak Marg in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi that:

  • he quietly requested from Home Ministry after becoming CM,
  • refused to occupy it after protests by AAP volunteers,
  • succumbed to his weakness for taxpayer funded perks to occupy it later,
  • refused to vacate after resigning as CM citing daughter’s exams as an excuse,
  • had no qualms accepting Rs. 80,000 per month from so-called “unusually large-hearted, extra-benevolent friends” (when the market rate for that house was 5 times that which amounted to subsidy from taxpayers), and
  • now is refusing to vacate long after his daughter came out with flying colors in 12th board exams!
minhaz

Minhaz Merchant’s tweet on Feb 4

It has recently come to our notice that AK’s actual game plan was to never vacate this house at all! Never ever! What has unfortunately thrown a spanner in the works is the full majority to Modi government on May 16. It has taken away any scope for playing mischief with Lutyen’s house allotment.

As early as on Feb 15, a day after Kejriwal resigned as CM, The Calcutta Telegraph reported the real motive in his own golden words to NDTV. Note that he has since stopped repeating this line possibly realizing the downsides of revealing the cards. The national media completely ignored this ulterior motive of Kejriwals, and kept playing up the daughter’s board exams excuse. Kejriwal used her board exams to garner sympathy and self-righteousness for himself from some inquisitive and critical AAP workers. The truth lies elsewhere: not in daughter’s academic performance, but in wife’s anticipated promotion.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140216/jsp/frontpage/story_17944440.jsp

The former chief minister’s wife, who was allotted a flat in Ghaziabad where the family lived, will be eligible for a similar flat when she is promoted. But the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), of which she is an officer, does not have flats in Lutyens Delhi where the current apartment is located.

In order to get an allotment in Lutyens Delhi, she would have to make a request. Such requests are not uncommon or illegal but they are little different from seeking favours.

“My wife is due for promotion. She will become commissioner and then she would be entitled to this flat. We will see if that happens,” Kejriwal told NDTV 24×7.

An urban development ministry official said: “An IRS officer is allotted a house from the central pool only if the person is posted with the central government.” Sunita is not on central deputation.

The Kejriwals’ current Tilak Lane accommodation is a Type VI flat from the general pool of the CPWD allotted to joint secretaries or above. Sunita, posted as OSD with the Income Tax Delhi circle as additional commissioner, is one rank below.

On May 28, just two days after taking oath, the Modi government issued a notice to Kejriwals to vacate the bungalow by June 26 (one month after Modi’s swearing in). On June 14, The Hindu reports the real motive quoting a “close source of the AAP leader”:

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/kejriwal-to-vacate-official-residence/article6114822.ece

The source said that Mr. Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita, is due for a promotion in her job which would entitle her to accommodation of a type similar to the one on Tilak Road, but noted that it could take a couple of months due to the change of guard at the Centre.

The Economic Times spills the beans further: the elaborate game plan doesn’t just stop with Kejriwal alone. His close confidant Manish Sisodia who isn’t known to have any 12th grade kid has also refused to vacate!

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/lutyens-delhi-315-new-mps-lead-to-major-housing-exercise-as-ex-ministers-refuse-to-vacate-homes/articleshow/36681039.cms

AAP chief and former Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has got four notices, but has not responded with a firm date of vacating the plush C-II/23 Tilak Lane accommodation. Another AAP leader Manish Sisodia, who lives in a government accommodation at Patparganj across the Yamuna, has repeatedly ignored eviction notices.

Can a politician, that too someone with an air of moral superiority about himself, get any more hypocritical? Will the self-righteous AAP volunteers dare to question their Lord? Who will bell the cat?

Amidst all this hypocrisy, will AAP survive as an ethically upright party if they don’t let go of their power-hungry leader?

State Governors coterminous with Central Govt?

I fully support an incoming Central govt. starting on a clean slate by appointing its own emissaries to the states: Governor. A Governor by definition is Centre’s representative to oversee the affairs of the state government, and as such needs full confidence of the Centre to perform her role. This confidence of Centre is precisely what gives her legitimacy in the state capital because she isn’t otherwise democratically elected. Her role becomes super-critical if the state comes under President’s rule (as Delhi is as we speak). If the Centre cannot rule the state under such circumstances because of a hostile governor, well, she loses the confidence of Centre to remain situated in that high office.

A glimpse of what Modi regime is facing today: Several former full-time Congress leaders such as HR Bharadwaj, Shiela Dixit, Kamala Beniwal, and Margaret Alva occupying Raj Bhavans across the state capitals. The most memorable appointment is of Shiela Dixit’s who just made it in the nick of time before UPA govt fell. There is news that Centre has informally asked some of them to put in their papers.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/NDA-government-nudges-6-governors-to-quit-one-refuses/articleshow/36677778.cms

However, my request to Modi government is this: Please institutionalize the arrangement of a Governor resigning when a new Central govt. takes over. This will take discretion / arbitrariness out of the process, and give Centre a free hand to choose their emissary without having to invent reasons to defend in Supreme Court. Governors can be treated at par with Union Cabinet and Secretaries whose terms also expire with the Prime Minister. Every governor should voluntarily submit their resignations at the advent of a regime change. The new Prime Minister can always choose to retain some governors on the grounds of political neutrality and administrative skills, while letting go of the political appointees of the previous regime.

I hope the government brings in appropriate amendments to laws (and Constitution if necessary) for this institutionalization. Once the idea is institutionalized, the scope for misuse narrows.

Kerala Gov. Shiela Dixit (Source: http://www.abplive.in/incoming/article102912.ece/ alternates/FREE_768/sheila%20Dikshit)

April 30: When democracy took a break in Didi’s Bengal

On the morning of April 30, reports of unprecedented scale of rigging came thick and fast from South Bengal. Several booths showed 90% polling by 11am; the best one to beat: a booth in Howrah district’s Amta area saw 100% polling by 9am, just 2 hours after booth opened!

A concerned citizen of India would expect such reports would send alarm bells ringing at Nirvachan Sadan (Election Commission) in New Delhi. And that its West Bengal in-charge would monitor the situation on a minute-to-minute basis; rework the deployment of available security personnel; and issue public appeals to the terrorized voters to vote freely + fairly with confidence in the integrity of the process. Exactly the opposite happened. The Bengal EC in-charge mysteriously disappeared that fateful morning without anyone being able to reach him even on phone! He appeared later in the afternoon when the voter rolls were swept clean. The 9 constituencies in South Bengal had registered a massive 82% turnout.

For the ruling party in Kolkata, it was just another easy morning. From a projected 5-4 split in prior opinion polls (for the seats that went to polls on April 30), Mamata Didi now looks set to a sweep it clean 9-0. Every single constituency was systematically rigged to its knees. The opposition voter was terrorized and shunted out of voting booth. The strongest candidates of BJP: Bappi Lahiri, PC Sorcar, and Chandan Mitra would probably bite dust on May 16 for no fault of their own.

This takes the cake: Our learned Election Commissioners in New Delhi spent 3 full hours (yes, you read it right, 3 full hours) in an emergency meeting that very morning to discuss Modi taking selfie with lotus in Western India. Meanwhile, our democracy wept in Eastern India.

Does EC have its priorities upside down? I never thought the country could be let down by the highly respected EC in the manner it was on April 30.

Time to wonder. Would May 16 results reflect the true aspirations of people in Bengal? Or just the true aspirations of the voting machines and the ruling party?

References:

  1. High turnout: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/lok-sabha-elections-2014/news/High-turnout-rigging-charges-mark-Bengal-poll/articleshow/34442790.cms
  2. Youth4Democracy: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202839084592692&set=gm.693469927380744
  3. Soft rigging: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140501/jsp/frontpage/story_18297804.jsp
  4. The Quixotic EC: http://www.mediacrooks.com/2014/05/the-quixotic-ec.html

#LetDownByEC

Dear Mumbaikar friends: Think National, Vote National!

(This post is in response to friend Rohit’s post on Mumbai North candidates. I hope he will keep in mind the following points in arriving at a decision.)

 

Today, every Indian’s City of Dreams Mumbai goes to vote. That makes April 24 the crowning phase of 2014. I wanted to jot down a couple of quick thoughts if someone on my friend circle hasn’t made up her mind yet (very unlikely). Even if only three of you read this post, and one of you agrees with the sentiment, I will pat my own back.
I’m assuming that demographic that reads my posts is likely split between BJP/ShivSena, AAP, and MNS in that order. Congress is not really an option for anyone in 2014 come what may, so I will discount it.

 

You may (or may not) be following your local candidate’s speeches closely. If you haven’t been paying attention, then you haven’t missed much. If you have been paying attention, and inclined to vote for the candidate best suited to tackle your local issues, think again. The MP you elect will not be able to affect positively/negatively your daily life as much as if overall Indian economy improves, and jobs are created not just in your area but everywhere in India.

 

Think about it this way: Let’s say you are a Marathi Manoos and the biggest issue in your area is UP/Bihar migrants, and you want to vote for the candidate best suited to deal with this migration problem. You have the option to think locally or nationally before deciding. If you think locally, you might be voting for MNS candidate because he has issued grand statements to protect your interests. If you think nationally instead, if jobs are created in UP/Bihar, why would people come to your city to take brickbats from the Senas? They would rather stay close to their parents.

 

Let’s say your biggest issue is petty corruption. If you think locally, you might be swayed to vote for someone with extremely clean hands in his personal life, or someone who is a recent entrant to politics (so no chance of getting hands dirty). If you think nationally, you’ll soon realize that corruption has nothing specific to your constituency alone, and is a result of severe resource crunch, and everyone running after limited pie. So you would again vote for someone who would address the root of the problem: provide a better economic future to today’s youth so they don’t resort to immoral activities such as corruption, and justify it in the name of making ends meet due to unbearable price rise.

 

Even at the cost of repetition, let me say this: An MP has little say in the local governance which is in the hands of municipal corporation and State govt. Typically, MPs serve in parliamentary committees drafting bills, proposing amendments, doing investigation into national-level scams, and approving budgets for various sectors. Our founding fathers have designed an MP’s job to be more national and less local. However, an MP should air the concerns of his constituents in the Parliament if it is an issue worth the attention of Central govt, and cannot be solved locally. Also, MPs lead state-level delegations to get more funds sanctioned for the state.

 

If some MP candidate is telling you that he will fix your drainage issue, he is probably lying unless he has enough strings to pull in Mumbai corporation and state govt. to get work done. If you really want someone to fix your drainage, the right election is the one coming up in October to elect Mantralaya.

 

Irrespective of who is running in your constituency, I suggest that you consider candidates as the ones running for PrimeM, and those he appoints as FinanceM (for economic growth), HomeM (for law and order needed for economic growth), DefenseM (for securing the borders again needed for economic growth), and ForeignM (for India’s projection as a global economic hub).

 

In short: “Think National, Vote National!”

Why bother analyzing election data? What’s in it for me?

A friend asked me how election analysis, the likes of 5forty3.in that I blogged about yesterday, will help him as a voter. Let me try to explain, bear with me:

The utility of the information depends on the person who is consuming the information. 5Forty3 will only equip you with the information, but it is up to you how you put it to use. Note that they don’t do exit polling (I’m guessing that means they don’t interview people as they exit out of booths).

The realtime analysis is certainly useful for politicians, but it is like a lifeline for a loosely organized category of stakeholders called “political workers.” It is they who drive apathetic voters to booths, and help increase the overall voting percentage in an area. Such analyses will certainly help workers focus their energies on particular geographies that are lagging behind in voting for whatever reason.

If you’re one of those couch potatoes who didn’t vote all morning thinking your candidate will win without your vote, one hopes that realtime trends showing low voting %age in your area will lessen your complacency to get out of your house to actually vote.

Let’s remember that a lower voting percentage is bad for the credibility of democracy in general, and the result of a particular constituency in particular. If only 10/100 people vote, the one who gets 4 votes might win but will lack the stature that comes with a clear election victory to carry his people along for the next 5 years. Also these 10 could be politically-committed voters, and the rest 90 happen to be apathetic to the result which will mean a cadre-based party like BSP or BJP will always win no matter what the situation. The result as such will reflect an immature democracy. An ideal voting percentage should be close to full, now that voters have NOTA option as well.

But the utility of such analysis is not just limited to election days. The database forms a treasure trove in analyzing the election results in an informed manner. Example questions:

  • Is secularism/communalism as big an issue as made out to be? Are people voting on that question overwhelmingly?
  • Is corruption a factor uniformly across geographies, demographies and gender?
  • and many more…

A historian might draw lessons for future elections from the past election cycles. For a historian, election is not merely a change in government, but a deep dive into the psyche of the population at a given time point in the life of a nation. For example, such analyses may provide an insight into how a nation mired in caste/religion/X/Y/Z for decades now votes on development/aspirations/A/B/C. This insight will hopefully push the elected representatives to work for 5 years on issues that really drives the voter to vote for him/her. The agenda of governance will also reflect people’s needs better if the leader has a clear idea of why people voted him/her into power.

For those who are distant observers and not actual participants, such analyses provide entertainment value, and may satisfy human curiosity. The systematic analysis of election data may also give the voter a sense of empowerment, but I wouldn’t exaggerate point that too much. However, if democracy matures, I think everyone does benefit, even those non-participants in the democratic processes.

P.S.: An initiative such as 5Forty3 is quite a common practice in Western democracies. Ex-NYT statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog (http://fivethirtyeight.com/) is best known among the breed. Dr. Praveen Patil’s team is bringing the much needed election toolkit to India.