Times of India

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.

Status Anxiety

The only discordant note in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's otherwise triumphant trip to the United States was his pleading for a permanent seat in the Security Council. I have never been comfortable with this unseemly campaign. Hankering after superpower status is a sign of our status anxiety and lack of self-confidence. Besides, a seat should never be a national goal. It is like a medal in a race; the goal is to win the race; the medal is only a by-product. So, let us focus on genuine achievements like building a prosperous and compassionate society.

When masks fell off

The sad story of how our callous regulators lost us a world-class university, which I narrated two Sundays ago, has resulted in new discoveries. One of the happier ones is a metamorphosis in the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). Not only have corrupt officials gone, but it is committed to regulate non-intrusively via the power of information. Last month it posted its initial findings on its website, and all hell broke loose as the masks of important men fell off. Students could now cheerfully begin to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let minds fly

It is with anguish that I sit down to write this column. Two years ago I met a distinguished friend in Delhi, who is the president of a prestigious American university that has produced several Nobel laureates. He loves India and he told me with some pride that India is increasingly perceived as a future knowledge capital of the world. He thought he would contribute to this future by setting up a branch campus here so that Indians could acquire his university's degree at a fourth of the cost in America. I was delighted.

A flat world?

“When I was growing up, my parents told me, 'Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving. I now tell my daughters, 'Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job.'” Tom Friedman, the influential columnist of the New York Times recounts this in his new book, The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. He argues that technology and market reforms are fast flattening the playing field in the global economy, where India and China have emerged as early winners.

It's in the attitude, my dear

Good news comes quietly, and it did two weeks ago on a typical May evening as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a new system to evaluate the IAS officer. Our real failures, I have always believed, are managerial and not political. Laloo may grab the headlines but good governance lies in the ubiquitous daily interface between the lowest babu and the public.