Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Indians Will Hate Obama

Very soon, you might have Prakash Karat and fellow comrades crooning, ‘I told you so’, as the Indian media slams Barack Obama and Uncle Sam for once again ‘tilting against’ India. You can already hear murmurs of protest as protectionism gathers momentum in America and young Indians find their dream jobs disappearing in the United States. You must have read some pundits suggest how India must adopt tit for tat measures by denying contracts to companies like Boeing. By now, many defense pundits, too, have expressed shock at Uncle Sam denying some key technologies to the Indian armed forces. Then there are those hawks who are now convinced that America is absolutely not interested in genuinely helping India when it comes to battling cross border terrorism. And rest assured, the Obama administration will take many decisions and make many choices that will anger, dismay and even outrage urban Indians who haven’t stopped fantasizing about the emerging strategic partnership between India and America. For this breed of Indians, Uncle Sam would follow up the nuclear deal by doing everything that is anti-Pakistan and anti-China if they have a conflict of interest with India. Sadly such delusions always get shattered. They will inevitably get shattered by end of this year. So after the Indo-US euphoria of the last few years, get prepared for a phase of disappointment and rage at the perfidy of Uncle Sam. And don’t be surprised if Obama becomes one of the most criticized personalities in Indian media (in any case, even his honeymoon with the American media is on the verge of collapsing).

The brutal fact is: both the media and the middle class Indians will be wrong when they rail at Obama and his policies. The reason behind that is another brutal fact: India stills behaves childishly and naively when it comes to the pursuit of national interests, foreign policy and geo-poltics. No wonder, the discourse on foreign policy in India oscillates between triumphant and childish optimism and naïve pessimism. When India signed the nuclear deal, optimism reached a feverish pitch; when a few Indians don’t get American jobs, the pessimism plunges into depths of despair. That is because most Indians confuse between cold blooded pursuit of national interests and the feel good buzz around emotional bonding. There will always be some occasions when America and India’s national interests do not converge when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. That does not make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when the head will rule over the heart and Uncle Sam will choose China over India (China happens to literally propping up the US economy at the moment by sending surplus dollars to America). That doesn’t make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when political compulsions in America will hurt India Inc. Again, that doesn’t make America anti-Indian.

But beyond these simple facts, there is another brutal fact that would hurt many Indians. We tend to think that India is more important than it actually is. Sample this fact: Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing soon after taking over. New Delhi was never on the agenda. And who visited India? It was Richard Holbrooke who is officially supposed to look after Afghanistan and Pakistan. Touché.


Friday, March 6, 2009

A shameless nation of freeloaders

Many of you must have barely read or heard about the latest shenanigans stalking Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – the Mecca, Medina, Vatican and Chaardham of Left wing civil service aspirants mas¬querading as activists and wannabe academicians. One student even earned his 15 minutes of fame by threat¬ening to jump to his death. Many student leaders have been rusticated for disrupting the sale of prospectuses for the academic year 2009-10. They, and their sup¬porters, have declared war on the JNU administration. Why? Three ostensible reasons. First, JNU wanted to 'commercialise' the campus. Second, it wanted to install electricity meters in hostel rooms. Third, it increased the cost of the prospectus by a 'staggering' Rs.80 to Rs.200 each. This hike comes after 10 years. When student leaders launched an agitation, JNU announced that there will be no electricity meters and no 'commerciali¬sation'. It also announced a free prospectus for a candidate below poverty line. But the student leaders were adamant. They insisted that 'poor' students cannot afford Rs.200. The stalemate continues.

This brouhaha reveals two deeply disturbing things about India – the farce that is higher education in India and the shameless manner in which middle class Indians crave for freebies. Of course, the political class happily exploits both to suit its ends; ensuring that 'quality' higher education becomes a slave of 'patronage' and the real poor of India get lemons; while the middle class and the rich walk away with all the freebies (subsidies). Take JNU as the clas¬sic example of these symptoms. Are the student leaders serious when they say that aspiring students cannot afford to pay Rs.80 more for a prospectus? Out of curiosity, I went to the JNU website and checked out the fee structure. Hold your breath; even you can't believe this happens in India!
If you are a B.A (Hons), M.A, M.Sc or M.C.A student in JNU, the total annual fee that you pay is about Rs.330 – inclusive of fees for sports and cultural activities, I-card, Library use, et al. That works out to less than Rs.30 a month. If you are an M.Phil, M.Tech or Ph.D student in JNU, the total an¬nual fee is a princely Rs.355 or so; still less than Rs.30 a month. This island of 'academic excellence' and bastion of socialism also has many fine hostels where the admission fee is a mind boggling Rs.5. The annual fee, including electricity, water and other facilities for a student opting for a single room is about Rs.700. That works out to less than Rs.60 per month. So you have a JNU student pursue higher studies at less than Rs.100 per month – including a stay in the hostel use of library, newspapers, electricity and what not.

Sure, many poor students come to JNU for a degree. But then, JNU offers them an array of fee exemptions and scholarships. What about the thousands of middle class Indians who come to JNU? Are you telling me that they can¬not afford to spend more than Rs.100 a month on higher education? That's akin to middle class Indians saying they can't afford to pay Rs.150 more per month for an LPG cylinder. Is this the 'freebie' demanding middle class that will Lead India? You must be joking.