Monday 26 October 2015

Why a loss in Bihar will be no setback for the BJP

It will be a miracle if the BJP combine wins in Bihar. but if they do, the message will be loud and clear that the Modi sheen is not fading and if anything, it is even getting stronger, much stronger.

But I am not sure if even the BJP expects to win Bihar, their public posturing notwithstanding. Not that that is going to make a huge difference.

Consider this.

Even in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 when Nitish Kumar was humiliated, the BJP polled just under 30 % of the votes polled. The JD (U) of Nitish Kumar,  the RJD of Lalu Yadav and the Congress received 16%, 20 % and  9 % % respectively.

If one recognises that the BJP cannot better its pe

Tuesday 8 September 2015

How Ahmad Javed, the new Mumbai police Commissioner, transformedpolicing in Navi Mumbai

When Ahmad Javed,  the new Police Commissioner of Mumbai, used to be the Police Commissioner of Navi Mumbai which was not very long ago, he did something very simple which changed the face of policing in Navi Mumbai for as long as he was there. He asked for notice boards to be put up in every police station in Navi Mumbai with his mobile number on it.

What is the big deal, you may ask. especially when the mobile numbers of many police officers are available on the web. Let me tell you it was a big deal, a very big deal.

On this board he had arranged for display at every police station were the mobile numbers of three people. The message on the notice board exhorted people who were unhappy with the service at the police station to call any of the three officers whose numbers were displayed. The first was that of the Station in Charge. The second was that of the Deputy Commissioner of Police who had supervisory responsibilities over the police station. The third was his.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Silly idea this, Justice Katju

As the world celebrates the advent of the month of Ramzan, my mind goes back to a day last month when I visited the Cheraman mosque in Kerala.

I am reminded of a plaque on the wall announcing that the mosque was set up in 629 AD, which, in case you did not realise it, was during the life time of the Prophet. The story goes that Cheraman Perumal, Chera king, sufficiently intrigued to hear about the Prophet from visiting Arab traders, decided to make the trip to meet the Prophet. He would never made it back home, dying on his return journey but by then, he issued instructions for this mosque to be built.

Christianity too was introduced to India early on and can be traced back to 52 AD when St Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles showed up. He came to Kerala where, as he would discover, there was already a Jewish settlement.

What do both of these say about this country ? It shows that this has been a country embraced seekers of all faiths. Some came to conquer, some to take refuge from the tyranny in their own lands. "I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth," said Swami Vivekananda. He defines the essence of India, when he went on to say, "We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true."

 Which is perhaps why conversions did not happen. Christianity has been around for ever but Christians in this land account for less than 2.3 % of the total. By any yardstick, the proselytzation agenda of the Church has failed. 

Islam fared better in terms of numbers. May be because of the Mughal invaders who ruled the country for long. Yet, Muslims, inspite of all the invasions and the forcible acts of conversion by successive Mughal kings, don't add up to more than 15 % of the total population. 

Both religions failed to get more traction because people may not have felt the need to convert. Except when forced to do so. The my-god-is-better-than-your-god theme of various proselytizers seems to have found no takers. Which is how even now, this plural society is over 80 % Hindu. 

And in the Hindu belief, there is provision for as many Gods as one chooses. If you believe in one god, that is okay. If you believe in two, that too is okay. Three, sure. You don't believe in God, that too is fine.  In every human settlement, they made up their own Gods. Every village had a God, a guardian god. Thats how as a country, we ended up with more than a million Gods and counting.

What then is secularism ? I honestly don't know.

But I can say that it cannot be about saying that among my Facebook friends or Twitter followers, 14.5 % are Muslims, which roughly corresponds to the national demographics.

I can say that it is about not looking at religious beliefs when hiring a CA or a techie. Religion should not matter.

So you could have your Rama while I had my Krishna or Shiva. It is this that laid the foundation for the acceptance of a Christ or Allah similarly. Whoever. Society gave each one freedom to find ones own  truth. It was about self realisation. Over the years conflicts did happen. But the core essence remained. Of tolerance. Of co existence. Of recognising the need to allow each to find ones own path,  to explore other paths.

Which is why what is happening around me is scary. The emergence of us and them. When some of my colleagues in the office talk in such terms, it makes me shudder. When I hear a retired Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju talk about secularism not being a one way traffic, he talks of a balance rooted in reciprocity.

In asking Hindus to fast for one day during Ramzan while exhorting Muslims to fast one day during Navratri, he misses the point completely. It is not my recollection that we ever fasted for Navratri at home. I hail from a  part of the country which is different from those parts where they do fast for Navratri. So  what does the Judge suggest that Muslims do by way of reciprocity to make me happy? This tit for tat, however endearing a  concept, is going nowhere. It is simply a variation of an eye for an eye approach, which ultimately makes the whole world go blind.

I was in Guruvayur not long ago where the ban on Yesudas' entry still holds. That is ridiculous. His tapes are playing ecverywhere but they wont let him in because he is a Christian. He should be allowed to go not because they allowed me to go into the Cheraman Masjid and that I wish to offer something to Christians in return, but because it is fundamentally against what this country has espoused all these years. In most temples around the country, non Hindus are not permitted. in my view, it should not matter what your belief system to be allowed into a sacred space. that is how this country has been forever,

What then is secularism ? Honestly I don't know.  Though I can say that it is not what Justice Katju is proposing. Just as I can say vehemently that it is not about having Muslims make up 14.5% of your Facebook friends or Twitter followers arguing that that is reflective of the country's demographics. Where personal religious beliefs do not matter to perform a function, these considerations should not enter. For me that is secularism. Like when one goes to a lawyer or a doctor. One goes to them for their professional competence. Or when one hires a software engineer. Or a finance professional. Or even a maid at home. Or when someone is cast for a role in a movie.

Should we have taken this approach with our cricket team where at one point in time, more than 2 Muslims were playing? Or our hockey team where Christians have a greater presentation that their demographics would warrant. Or for many years, Sikhs.

To propose a you-do-this-for-me-if-you-want-me-to-do-this-for-you is a lousy approach and totally unbecoming of a retired Supreme Court Judge.  This is not the test of a secular society. This is just plain silly and not what this country needs today. I would have ignored it if was just silly but the problem is that it is also dangerous.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Remembering the worst genocide in my living memory

In just 9 months in 1971, the Pakistani army killed 3 million people in what was then known as East Pakistan and is now known as Bangladesh. Contrast this with Hitler's atrocities when 6 million Jews were killed between 1941 and 1945. For the sheer intensity of the atrocities, for their sheer brutality packed within a short time, Pakistani's annihilation of Bangladeshis beats any other purge anywhere in the world. Which is why it is a matter of huge regret that the the world has not paid much attention to this genocide.

(The atrocities by Pol Pot in Cambodia were spread over 4 years when 2 million were killed)

As I see pictures of Narendra Modi, the Indian PM, who landed in Bangladesh earlier today, my mind goes back to those days. I was 8 going on 9. it started as a game for me and my sister. Every evening the sirens would go off. Sometime around then, power to would be cut. We would do our homework under the light of hurricane lamps. My sister and I would race to see who could get more windows covered with brown paper so that the light from the lamp could not be seen by overflying aeroplanes looking for a target to bomb though I don't think any Pakistani plane ever got close. We would seal up the windows good. Once in a while, we would rush to the terrace hearing the sound of a plane which were told was an Indian fighter jet rushing to defend Bangladesh. If we spotted one, we would scream in sheer delight.

Not that I understood much. I did not know why there was a war, I did not know anything about the genocide that was going on less than 100 miles away from where we lived in Calcutta. I only knew that something big was happening. I got really excited my when my grandfather took me to Southern Avenue to see Indira Gandhi drive past in an open jeep. The roadsides were lined up with more people than I had ever seen. I waved to her and she waved back. I did not know then that that was a victory procession. I did not understand the significance of it then. A few weeks later my father took me to see a Pakistani tank which was kept in the Maidan area. There was not much of a crowd and we were allowed to go in. I got to play inside the tank for a few minutes. I did recall thinking how anyone could sit inside all cramped up.

Over the next few weeks and months and even years, the enormity of what happened sunk into me gradually. I heard about this place called Salt Lake on the outskirts of Calcutta where the refugees were being settled. Millions of them. i heard abut the squalour and the dirt and how the area had become smelly. Today that area houses the affluent of Calcutta. Over the next few years I read about how many refugees were moved to a place called Dandakaranya in Orissa.

This post is triggered by an article I read today by Ravi Venkatesan describing India as a poor country. When I recall the enormity of the sacrifices that must have been made by people at that time to accommodate the displaced people from across the border, the enormity of which is sinking into me only now, I can tell you that it cannot be the act of a poor country. We have poor people in this country alright, but when I recall what we did then, I would hesitate to call ourselves poor.

It strikes me that that was then India as a world power came on the world stage. Because being a world power is about caring, it is about caring for the consequences of one's actions not to mention of that of others. But for the genocide which the world is yet to recognise for what it was, I am not sure Indira Gandhi would have intervened. Of course it must have occurred to her that if she won, as she did, her position in the government would not be challenged. The human cost of the refugee influx may also have been a factor. But you don't act if you don't care. And she showed that India cared. She showed that India which had been a home for displaced people from all over the world over the ages, could still provide comfort to the displaced from across the border.

Today as my Prime Minister stands in Dhaka, I want him to remember that the greatness of India was reinforced by her actions. I want him to spare a thought to the memory of Indira Gandhi.

Thursday 4 June 2015

How XBRL can make air travel safe in India

"You Can Get a Pilot License in India After Just 35 Minutes in Air," screamed the headline in the Bloomberg yesterday.

"Indian Trainee Pilots Passed After Just 35 Minutes Flight Time, Report Says," Time magazine said, quoting the Bloomberg report.

Just when things seem to be looking up for the Indian aviation sector, Bloomberg filed this story which the world media picked up right away. It was presented not as an isolated problem but as a systemic one and if the intention was to scare people into not flying on Indian carriers, it worked.

The Indian regulator made noises on predictable lines, assuring swift and prompt action and a tightening of oversight.

Technology offers a solution, a simple elegant solution at that. The answer lies in adopting XBRL as the reporting standard. The Indian aviation regulator, DGCA should move all reporting in the aviation industry to XBRL forthwith. Every shred of information it collects should be in XBRL, whether the information reported is by airlines or airports, by pilots and by pilot training schools, just about everyone. it will improve compliance, it will strengthen supervision and problems can be detected early allowing the possibility of swift stern action against the erring lot.

I am no aviation expert but this is how I think this could have been caught with XBRL. Consider the facts. Bloomberg says "Anupam Verma has a certificate that shows he has flown an aircraft for 360 hours. He says he got it after sitting in the co-pilot’s seat for just 35 minutes."

Every flying school is surely asked to maintain records of the training it imparts to each and every student pilot. If the student went up with a Pilot, the data captured would have included information on the aircraft flown, the name of the pilot who went up with the student, information from the nearest air traffic control which would have to maintain independent records of the flight with all of the details including date, time, and the aircraft's call in number which acts as a unique ID. Such data would have to be captured during take of and landing as well. Then there is the fuel consumption which is recorded by the oil company which does the ground refuelling of the aircraft. But we dont need to go that far to catch the lies.

If DGCA had received the data in XBRL from the flying school, and if the school was a fraud, the numbers would simply not have added up. Either the number of hours flown by a plane in a day when the data is all aggregated would have had to be more than 24 hours in a calendar day as the school would not be able to show use of aircraft it did not have, or if it did have aircraft not cleared for flying which it showed as having been used, the blatant violation by using such aircraft would have come to the fore through a cross verification of a database which listed all aircraft okayed to fly. If one had bothered to similarly verify the instructors participation in the flight, again the numbers would not have smelled anything but fishy. Inevitably the pilots would have reported to have logged more hours than they are legally allowed to and may even more than the 24 hours a calendar day offers. I can go on and on but to make the point, this should suffice.

With the adoption of XBRL, inconsistencies would have jumped out, allowing the regulator to take swift speedy action against the fraudsters. XBRL, through the taxonomy and a business rules engine, will; flag such anomalies in the data automatically. Being an XML standard, it also allows for seamless data interchange across regulators, thereby increasing the efficiency of each of them.

At a time when India is seeking to redeem itself, this is something that India may wish to consider to improve regulatory oversight and gain a good name for itself the world over. Is DGCA listening ?

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