Times of India

Ghastly coalitions, away

Nitish Kumar's victory in Bihar reminds us what a young country we are. The young look to the future, not the past, and Laloo's appeal to caste had to fail ultimately because it sought to undo the wrongs of the past. The young want to make something of their life, and they look to the government to enable them to do so. Congress learned this lesson painfully in the winter of 2003 in the west central states. The difference is that to bijlee, sadak, pani, the young Bihar voter has added padhai and naukari.

A new social contract

I was deeply embarrassed last week before a distinguished audience of sophisticated investors abroad—they virtually called me a liar. A year ago I had reassured them that our stellar reformers–Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Montek–would not only ensure that our economic reforms would continue but they might even accelerate. A year later, the reforms are stuck and they were angry. I could not pretend that the reformers had become victims of coalition politics, for insiders tell me that the problem is with the Congress Party itself, which has lost the will to reform.

Everyone needs an address

When I was growing up in post-Independence In

Amoral familism

Nothing quite captures the imagination as these two facts: whereas three out of four members of China's politburo are technocrats, one out of four members of India's parliament has a criminal record. This explains a lot our depressing governance, stalled reforms, creaking infrastructure, and the absence of reasoned debate in parliament.   Ironically, as our economy becomes stronger, our polity seems to grow weaker. Just when our companies are breaking out of the shackles of family control, our politics is going the other way.

I am a Hindu, but …

The confident, handsome friend of our son's gave a telling reply to a visiting Englishwoman the other day in Khan Market.   “I am a Hindu, but …”, and he went into a winding reply about his beliefs. He hastily added that he was an Indian first. It was a perfectly honest answer, and any other person might have made it about Islam or Christianity. But I sensed an unhappy defensiveness–the 'but' betrayed that he was ashamed of being Hindu.

Missing in Action


A couple of weeks ago I reported that one out of four teachers in our government primary schools is absent and of those present one out of two is not teaching. Not surprisingly, many readers were deeply upset by this devastating data, and one offered the desperate suggestion of dispatching teachers missing in action to hell. I looked for Dante's Inferno, but in the end opted for a home grown variety, a vision of hell provided helpfully by Svargarohana Parvan near the Mahabharat's end.

Childhood trials

A recent study by respected members of Harvard University and others has shocked us.   It shows that one out of four teachers in our government primary schools is absent and one out of two teachers who are present are not teaching. We had suspected this rotten state of affairs when the Probe team surveyed North Indian states ten years ago, but we thought this problem was confined to the Bimaru states.

Manmohan's tragic dilemma

I wouldn't want to be in Manmohan Singh's shoes these days. His heart says, 'yes'; his head says, 'no'. His political boss has pushed through parliament a national employment guarantee act, which feels good to his heart - after all, what could be nicer than to know that all Indians are employed! But his conscience tells him that this will be the biggest 'loot for work' program in India's history. Thus, he is in a tragic dilemma, a dharma sankat.

Letter from A Friend

It is early to say if 2002 will go down as the year that the rains failed, but the misery in many parts is unquestionably extreme and profound. Every inhabitant of this sub-continent, I think, has secretly wished that we could be freed from this primeval bondage. The grand dream was always to connect the waters of the Ganges to the Kaveri, and one English engineer even forced a debate in the British parliament in the mid-19th century, where he argued that instead of building railways in India, Britain ought to develop inland waterways by connecting its rivers and join up the country through a network of canals. In this way one would create not only a transport network, but irrigate the country, bring abundance and prosperity, and even create a richer market for British goods. The railway lobby was, however, too strong for this sensible idea to take root.

Unsentimental choices

History has its winners and its losers, and in the 20th century there was no bigger loser than the Soviet Union. Born in 1917, it died in 1991. India, its ally in the Cold War, also ended on the losing side. I am not sure if it could have been otherwise, but let us not pretend that our diplomacy achieved anything but defeat. True, we led the non-aligned movement, but what is the point of being the leader of a failed movement? Call me naive, but I think unworthy Pakistan did better.