Thursday, October 16, 2008

Well, is India really all that bad?

Television debates in these turbulent times have left me completely shocked and bewildered as journalists, intellectuals and activists have fallen over backwards to condemn the Indian state, society and civilisation as fascist and intolerant. The mood of the moment seems to be: India is failing as a modern nation state and a secular democracy. The litany seems to be: there is no justice in India. Period. No justice. The most dangerous thing is that many of us are swallowing this drivel without even questioning the insidious propaganda. Has nothing positive happened that can give some hope for the future?

India has seen many riots before 2002 when Muslims and Sikhs were massacred, often with active police help. Delhi in 1984, Meerut and Bhagalpur in 1989 and Bombay in 1992-93 come to mind immediately. Justice was surely denied to the victims. And what about Gujarat in 2002 and its aftermath? The Best Bakery case was transferred out of Gujarat and the accused criminals were convicted, despite Zaheera Sheikh – the prime witness – turning hostile. This happened largely due to a proactive media and social activists. How many riot cases of the past can you think of where the accused have actually been convicted? Take another example of Gujarat. A decorated and high profile IPS officer D. G. Vanzara is behind bars for the alleged false encounter case of Sohrabuddin. That was again thanks mainly to media and activists. Take the case of Syed Geelani. Despite the best efforts of Delhi police, Geelani was released by the courts. Take the case of the horrific killing of Graham Staines and his two children in Orissa in 1999. The courts have sentenced the prime accused Dara Singh to life.

Go back to the Priyadarshani Mattoo case where the prime accused was the son of a top IPS officer. Think for a while about the brutal murder of Jessica Lal, where the prime accused was the son of a top Congress leader. You must surely still remember the murder of Nitish Katara, where the prime accused was the son of an alleged don and top politician of Western UP. In each case, the accused have been convicted, despite valid allegations from the media and activists that the prosecuting authorities were out to protect the accused. Surely nobody believes that brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal were directly and personally responsible for the Uphaar Cinema tragedy? Yet, they have been convicted and the Supreme Court has even cancelled their bail. The super rich Sanjeev Nanda has been convicted in the notorious BMW case and strictures have been passed against lawyers.

You might say that justice has been obtained in these cases because the victims belonged to middle class urban families and they had access to the media and activists. Those who believe in ‘all is bad with India’ think that the poor and the marginalised never get justice. But what about Bhaiyyalal Bhootmange, a Dalit of Vidarbha whose family members were brutally killed by an upper caste mob in 2006? In September 2008, a court gave the death sentence to six of the accused.

Sure, there is much that is rotten in India and the system. But lets also not forget these ‘positives’. Think, read and enjoy this Double Issue!


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is Mamata really the only spoilsport?

“If I believe that we were doing something wrong, then I will be the first one to pull out… You put a gun to my head and pull the trigger or take the gun away, I won’t move my head.”

That was Ratan Tata in 2006, daring the ‘motivated’ opponents of the Nano project to do their worst, and worse. Now you can blame Mamata Banerjee of many things; but even her most trenchant critic won’t accuse her of riding a horse towards Bombay House (the headquarters of the Tata Group) and pointing a Smith & Wesson at Ratan Tata. Then why is the Tata Group behaving so petulantly (unfortunately, blindly supported by most of the media) and threatening to pull out? If Tata Motors has not done “something wrong” ('Wrong' could be legal, ethical or moral), why has the company filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court requesting for a restraint on the State Information Commission from releasing details about the Nano car project? That’s because the more you learn about the deal between Tata Motors and the WB government, the more you wonder if J.R.D Tata would have ever pushed for such a deal.

Lest you bracket us as ‘professional protestors’, let me tell you that this magazine declared the Nano as the genuine Bharat Ratna. We still think the Nano is a paradigm changing at ‘low cost mobility’. Our problem is with how the ‘low cost’ is being achieved. The devil, as always, lies in the details.

The cash starved WB government has given a Rs.200 crore loan to Tata Motors at – yes – at 1% interest. The first instalment will be repaid in the 21st year of the project. Does a group that paid Rs 35,000 crore or so to acquire the British steel company Corus need a Rs.200 crore loan at 1% interest? Forget that. By the time the first instalment is due, Tata Motors would have earned close to Rs.2,000 crore in interest income by investing that money in a fixed deposit.

Tata Motors will pay a lease of Rs.1 crore per year on 647 odd acres of land for the first 30 years of the 90 year old lease. That is less than Rs.1,300 per acre in commercial land, less than 50 kilometres from Kolkata. Even poor middle class souls like you and me pay a lease of Rs.1,80,000 per year for a 1,000 square feet house far from the heart of the city.

The Nano project will get power at Rs.3 per KwH; the current rate in Bengal is Rs.4.15. If rates go up by more than 25 paise per Kwh in five years, the government will refund Tata Motors. You and me are already paying close to Rs.6 per unit for electricity. For every Nano sold in Bengal, the state will de facto refund the VAT and sales tax collected on each sale of Nano.

There is far, far more and we don’t even know the details of what Tata Motors has prevented us from knowing by going to the courts. I can’t but help wonder about two things. How much of the ‘low cost’ is because of media hyped innovations and how much because of the deal? Then again, who is putting a gun to whose head?