Village style politics

Under a succession of minimally educated farmers’ leaders who have imported the raw, unprincipled caste-based panchayat politics of village India into the country’s urban spaces, for the aam admi (common man) life in India’s ill-planned, noisy and overcrowded cities is becoming nasty, brutal and often short.

The validity of this proposition was graphically illustrated on January 9 in Bangalore. On that fateful day a minor car accident — a commonplace mishap in the traffic-choked city — occurred in the suburb of Banashankari. A car driven by N. Ramesh, a young businessman chipped some paint off the limousine of a prominent politician and self-proclaimed farmers’ leader. None of those involved suffered any injury.

Unfortunately for the young businessman, the owner and occupant of the limo was former prime minister of India and Karnataka chief minister H.P. Deve Gowda, fresh from his exploits of having dissolved the Janata Dal (Secular)-BJP coalition which had ruled the state of Karnataka (pop. 57 million) for over 20 months.

Despite the law (under India’s no-fault insurance regulations) being clear that in cases of motor car accidents not involving physical injury, parties involved have to file damage claims against their own insurance companies, some of Gowda’s aides stormed Ramesh’s household in the neighbourhood and demanded a sum of Rs.25,000 as "compensation". Following threats and menaces Ramesh’s parents reportedly paid Rs.10,000 on the spot. When the young man heard about the calamity the minor accident had visited upon his family, he committed suicide on January 9. Two days later Gowda found the time to visit the neighbouring household to offer his condolences, and reportedly offered solatium of Rs.1 lakh to the young businessman’s grieving family, an offer which was declined. Since then no more has been written about the minor accident and its tragic consequence in the media.

Raw, unprincipled village politics has indeed invaded India’s most hi-tech city.

Arms import stimulus

One of the many curious features of the centrally planned socio-economic development model foolishly adopted by post-independence India from the master kleptocrats of the Kremlin, Moscow, is the open, continuous and uninterrupted corruption which drives the country’s constantly expanding (Rs.93,000 crore in 2007-08) defence expenditure.

Despite the employment of middlemen by arms and defence equipment suppliers being banned in the aftermath of the Bofors scandal in 1985, it’s well-known that they continue to flourish as ‘consultants’ and ‘advisors’ to the international merchants of death who specialise in fomenting civil strife and revolutions in developing countries, and then flood them with arms and ammunition. Little wonder every big defence equipment import deal ranging from the Scorpene submarine and Admiral Goroshkov aircraft carrier to the purchase of snowboots for soldiers fighting the Kargil conflict of 1999, has been surrounded by the whiff of scandal.

Inconveniently for the BJP-led NDA coalition which ruled in Delhi during the period 1999-2004 and the 17-party Congress-led UPA government which has been in office since then, two new kickbacks scandals for the import of defence equipment from Israel have surfaced recently in the exasperatingly free press of India and Israel. The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) is probing allegations that well-known Delhi-based arms dealer Suresh Nanda shared huge kickbacks for the import of sophisticated Barak anti-missile defence systems valued at Rs.1,150 crore from Israel, with several NDA leaders. And on January 24, Haaretz reported that huge kickbacks were paid to a yet unidentified Indian agent for India signing a contract in 2004 for the import of three Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) valued at $1.1 billion (Rs.400 crore).

Debt-ridden farmers commit suicide by the thousands; millions of children suffer severe malnutrition and education deprivation. But defence expenditure keeps rising and the arms import business continues unchecked. Draw your own conclusions.

Imminent protest chorus

The popular belief endorsed by development economists the world over, is that private initiatives can never supplant state or government provided education, especially at the pre-school and primary levels. However given the pathetic condition of government schools characterised by poor learning outcomes and chronic teacher absenteeism (1.25 milllion government school teachers are absent every day), a growing number of parents from even the poorest households across the country are demonstrating disagreement with ivory tower development pundits.

It’s hardly a secret that India’s middle and upper classes have traditionally given wide berth to government schools, exhibiting almost unanimous preference for private — particularly ‘convent’ — schools run by Christian churches and missionary orders. Now recent studies conducted by Dr. James Tooley, hitherto professor of education at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK), indicate that parents in poor households in third world countries are increasingly enrolling their children in for-profit private schools in urban slum and village neighbourhoods which provide relatively superior English medium education at rock-bottom prices (Rs.40-100 per month).

To demonstrate the workability and efficacy of his private schools for the poor model, Tooley has put in his papers at Newcastle University, promoted a venture capital backed fund under the name and style of Orient Global based in Singapore, and has moved to Hyderabad, India. Quick off the blocks, the fund has already purchased/funded four for-profit slum schools which will provide high quality pre and primary school education to slum children at affordable prices. His objective is to not only provide alternative education to slum children, but also to engineer a sustainable model for national rollout to demonstrate the validity of business management guru Dr. C.K. Prahalad’s thesis that there is a fortune to be mined at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.

Stand by for a chorus of protest from hyper nationalists, language chauvinists, socialists and sundry protest groups!