November 15, 2009

Red Alert

Filed under: Conversation,Maharashtra,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 11:09 pm

“The Naxal movement started out as part of a clear ideology back in 1968, but today the only thread that holds them together is violence”. These were the first words spoken by Dr. Chhering Dorje, the Superintendent of Police for Chandrapur district and a highly distinguished IPS officer. The troubles first began back in the 1980s but only since early 2008 have they been brought to light, in part due to increased media attention. Having proven to be very shrewd operators, with precise planning going into their attacks and sustainable sources of funding through the natural resources[1] they live over, this is a crisis that cannot be taken lightly.

One of the solutions that has been proposed is to bring development to the affected regions. In theory this would appear effective, but any efforts on the part of the locals themselves have been fiercely suppressed. One such case is representative of the scenario: a group of boys left their Naxal-controlled district to look for jobs elsewhere, but came back without finding employment and got shot for deserting the rebel cause. Educated and people with aspirations are dealt with particularly severely. There is also a surrender program, whereby anyone who gives up his/her arms can be integrated into mainstream society[2], but the numbers haven’t been very promising.

The Naxals have been slowly spreading their tentacles and are even present in urban centers such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, albeit in smaller numbers. Their approach is to create discontent and the need for an uprising in small pockets, wherever they can take advantage of economic inequalities and anti-establishment sentiments. A conversation we had with a shopkeeper in Gadchiroli put this into perspective: he was educated, but couldn’t get a job with the government (almost no private sector there) because he was not willing to give the INR 2-3 lac bribe required to seal the deal. Even though he himself resisted the urge to take up arms, the Naxals seize upon this opportunity to recruit new cadres by not only offering them an opportunity for retribution, but also a “stable job” in their hierarchy.

Arundhati Roy, in a stinging critique of the government’s close association with the big corporations, points out the injustices that they suffer from and sympathizes with the rationale behind bringing about social and economic justice. Even though we were able to hear only one side of the story, that from the pro-establishment viewpoint, the brutality with which this supposed ideological war is being fought and the terror that it has unleashed amongst the common man calls for some action. The principles behind the movement remain compelling and the government-corporate nexus needs to be broken soon, but the means need to be altered.

According to Dr. Dorje, the solution is a collective and strong political willpower. He cites the example of Andhra Pradesh for having taken a tough stance and suffered significant casualties, but succeeded in pushing them out of the state. Operation Green Hunt is the manifestation of this position of the government which is currently underway; expects significant collateral damage if this goes ahead full steam.

[1] Bamboo, teak and tendu (used for making bidis) leaves are some of resources they have access to

[2] This is similar to what has been happening with the separatist ULFA movement in Assam, with those who surrender being called SULFA.


October 5, 2009

Dinner with Himanta Biswa Sarma

Filed under: Assam,Conversation,Economics,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 8:20 pm

Upon arrival in Guwahati, we noticed a barrage of modern ambulances with NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) logos imprinted on their side. A drive through Assam also revealed that NRHM has been well advertised in the state. In Sibsagar, we visited the civil hospital and noticed that the scheme was also being effectively implemented. In addition to being one of the most hygienic and orderly hospitals we have seen, doctors were attending to patients and medicines were being provided free of cost. We learnt that all this was made possible by Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s Health, IT (Information Technology) and GMDA (Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority) Minister.

While in Tezpur, our local host thought that it would be a good idea for us to meet Dr. Sarma, who is considered Assam’s most dynamic young leader. We wrote to him, introducing ourselves as a group of students exploring the country. He responded within 48 hours, promising to meet us after returning to Guwahati. Such responsiveness is generally uncharacteristic of a politician.

We were invited to his residence for dinner which was preceded by a long conversation in his work chamber. We began by asking him about his role in implementing NRHM across Assam. He told us that the successful execution was a result of district level planning, an inherent feature of the policy. He talked about India’s heterogeneity and told us that in order for a scheme to be successful, mandates can be national but states must be given entrepreneurial leeway in execution[1]. He also credited his team for looking after the micromanagement of the program. Dr. Sarma stated that he provides the vision[2] but responsibility and accountability are shared by the team.

We proceeded to ask him about his role as the GDD Minister. Dr. Sarma is not in favor of urbanization at the cost of agriculture. He lamented that agriculture is losing its prestige/importance and that in order for India to embark on a path of sustainable economic development, more Green Revolutions are needed. He spoke of Punjab as a showcase state which had benefitted from the introduction of advanced agricultural techniques, and where farmers have social clout. He longs for a day when the agricultural domain is considered prestigious enough for a father to get his daughter married to an agriculturist.

We also asked Dr. Sarma to shed some light on the subject of illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India. He urged us to consider the social impact of such migration (in the form of religious imbalance) in the long run, as opposed to the short term economic impact. According to him, Assam needs labor from outside the state as there are not enough locals available for low-skill jobs. He also thinks that the issue is not limited to Assam anymore as Bangladeshis travel to other parts of the country for work.

Dr. Sarma concerns himself with the attitude of the Assamese people. His mission is to transform the lackadaisical mindset of the local into an energetic and optimistic one. He believes in youthful enthusiasm and sees it as a game-changer in contemporary India. He travels extensively in order to familiarize himself with best practices in other regions. The conversation also revealed that he surfs the internet regularly and is an avid reader, especially of his critics. Watch out for this young leader who lends the political class much needed positivity.

[1] Here he suggested that policymakers from the southern part of the country are better equipped to design policy due to their preference for a decentralized form of governance as opposed to an overarching federal structure.

[2] According to him, those below 40 are the doers while the 40 plus generation is responsible for leadership and vision.

September 30, 2009

Bumla Border

Filed under: Arunachal,National Security — loggers @ 1:40 am

One of the main attractions of visiting Arunachal Pradesh is to go to the Indo-China (or Tibet, based on your stance) border, along the McMahon Line that was drawn up during the British Raj. The treaty that was signed between British India and Tibet has never been officially recognized by the Chinese on account of illegitimacy of the erstwhile Tibetan government. After India gave political asylum to the Dalai Lama in 1959[i], tensions between the two countries rose due to significant army movement on both sides, ultimately leading to the Indo-China war that took place in the winter of 1962. The Bumla border was one of the main battlegrounds of the war, through which the Chinese were able to enter India and capture territory right up to the Assamese town of Tezpur.

After a bumpy ride towards Bumla, we had to walk the last couple of km to the border as a result of our car not being able to traverse the difficult terrain. We were welcomed by a warm and hospitable army officer who showed us around the LAC (Line of Actual Control), and explained the territorial claims agreed upon between the two sides after the war as well as the flag handover ceremony[ii]. Through the jawaans’ binoculars, we were able to observe the Chinese building a two lane highway leading up to the border, an ominous sign in itself. However, no skirmishes have taken place and not a single shot has been fired since the war in 1962.

View of the Indo-China border from Bumla

View of the Indo-China border from Bumla

With the jawaans at Bumla

With the jawaans at Bumla

Inside the hospitality room, we were treated to some hot, sweet chai and given a background on the diplomatic procedure that takes place at this location when Chinese delegations arrive. This space also serves as a place to entertain army guests and government officials, many of which are known to visit Bumla.

Meeting room for delegations at Bumla

Meeting room for delegations at Bumla

We then visited the Shungatser lake on our way back to Tawang, a 20km drive from the border. This is now better known as Madhuri lake, after a song involving the effervescent Madhuri Dixit from the movie “Koyla” was shot there. We were treated to some hot coffee and bhajias by army officers who ran a canteen by the lake, a perfect respite from the cold weather outside.

Compared to the palpable tension noticed at the Indo-Pak border at Wagah, the China border effused a sense of calm. However, this could well be deceiving in light of the peace pact that was signed between the two nations, which ends in 2012.

Peace (?)

Peace (?)

[i] This year marks the 50th anniversary the Lama’s stay in India, and he is expected to visit Tawang in November

[ii] This ceremony occurs 4 times a year, with the next one to be held on Oct 1, to celebrate the Chinese National Day. Celebrations on this day include a flag exchange, cultural dances from each side and other similar events, which tourists are allowed to observe

August 30, 2009

Ahmedabad at the Forefront of India’s Education Story

Filed under: Education,Gujarat,National Security — loggers @ 12:33 am

The Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, the first of its kind in the world, was inaugurated on August 25, 2009. Narendra Modi (Chief Minister of Gujarat) and K.S. Radhakrishnan (Chief Justice of the High Court of Gujarat), along with other dignitaries, presided over the ceremony. The institution is a milestone for the Indian judicial system, where lack of evidence is cited as a critical issue impeding justice delivery. The crowd of 500+ students, parents, journalists and forensic scientists rose in unison and observed pin-drop silence as Modi entered the auditorium. After numerous eulogies, he was invited to address the audience.

Modi described the event as equally significant to Gujarat as the establishment of the Narmada dam. His excitement for putting Gujarat at the forefront of education and research in forensic science was evident. The one international (German) student was bombarded with cameramen, as this institution also aims to attract those looking for entries into foreign agencies such as the CIA, FBI, etc.

Modi swarmed by students and journalists after the ceremony

Modi swarmed by students and journalists after the ceremony

After witnessing history in the making, we left for the National Institute of Design (NID). We were welcomed by the post-modern architecture and displays of students’ 3D car models (Renault recently sponsored a competition to design an Indian coupe). The artsy student body strut the campus knowing they are the best of the best (think the MIT of design in India). There was arrogance in the air, and we loved it. The head of PR explained that as designing becomes an increasingly acceptable profession in India, the acceptance rate of <10% will only go lower. We are unanimously long on this institution.

July 29, 2009

Notes from our Conversation with Mushtaq Ahmed-Koka

Filed under: Conversation,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 1:33 pm

We met with members of Tarigami’s party (CPI-M) in his constituency. According to them:

-Floriculture/Agriculture can be developed in this region (we were shown Apple orchards)

-Young people prefer government jobs due to employment security

-There is lack of faith in judicial and electoral processes

-Learnt that there is an Entrepreneurial Development Institute in Srinagar

NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) has been a success in Kulgam in spite of wages being too low

PDS (Public Distribution System) has been a failure

Notes from our Conversation with Yusuf Tarigami

Filed under: Conversation,J&K,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 1:24 pm

About Yusuf Tarigami:

-3rd time MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) from Kulgam

-Head honcho, CPI-M (Communist Party of India- Marxist)

-Won his election seat by a 200-vote margin


-We addressed Tarigami by saying “a-salaam walakum.” This prompted his comments on how people’s mannerisms carry religious connotations, pointing out that even popular ringtones are increasingly religious in nature. He stated that religion, a force meant to unite people, has become a dividing force between the people of Kashmir.

– T drew similarities between quit Kashmir (National Conference movement) and Quit India (Indian National Congress movement) in 1947, in that they both had a plural agenda, and an ideological common ground.

– Biggest challenge before the region is saving the fragile unity from further disintegration. For this to happen, discontentment needs to be recognized (“Not communalism, but ‘majoritarianism’ in India, is the biggest issue”)

– According to T, Kashmiris have remained sensitive about their identity, due to their sense of insecurity, and their sense of belonging

– Militancy is now being seen as counterproductive by Kashmiris, and this is an opportunity to fix the trust deficit that exists between the various stakeholders involved in the Kashmir issue. “Kashmir cannot forever be on a hostile map”.

– Peace in Kashmir can only come after peace between India and Pakistan. However, T said that “Pakistani claim [on Kashmir] is contrary to our ethos and the emergence of Pakistan is a harsh reality”

– Democratizing existing political and administrative structures is important. The panchayati raj system for instance, is a bit autocratic.

– District development authorities that exist in Leh and Kargil may be models for replication in Kashmir and Jammu.

– Politics is a reflection of economics. Political and economic development can be simultaneous. However, economic development needs to be sensitive to the Kashmiri eco system, and agriculture based industries “can be worked out”

– On water resource division, T said that “We [in Kasmir] are not getting our dues”.

July 25, 2009

Day 1

Filed under: J&K,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 1:29 am

With tickets purchased on Yatra for INR 2791 (inclusive of taxes et cetera), we walked in to the low cost airline terminal of the CSA airport, Mumbai.  Upon arrival at 2pm (flight time 2.5 hrs) in Srinagar, we made our way to our local host and mentor, David Devadas residence in Rajbagh. David is the author of `In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir’. Over adrak chai, samosas and vegetable patties, we spoke about the ubiquitous security personnel in multiple shades of khaki and goodwill messages on barricades. We learnt that the security cover tends to be heavy on Fridays as Muslims gather at local mosques for jumma prayers. Today was the first peaceful Friday in 5 months.

After the intro to Kashmir talk by David, we headed to Lal Chowk (Srinagar’s city center) via streets sprayed with bunkers, Jammu & Kashmir’s only flyover anhd the outskirts of Bakhshi Stadium. As we drove through the city, we absorbed the mystic concept of Kashmiriyat evident in polite manners and eclectic architecture. Lal Chowk, up until now, had been part of unpleasant headlines in the news. Today we discovered gushtaba and rista (beaten, not minced meatballs) and tuj, bookstores and stock brokers on-looking a volatile crossroad.

Gushtaba & Rista at Lal Chowk

Gushtaba & Rista at Lal Chowk

We made an interesting discovery as we pondered over what we saw and heard. As visitors, we thought of every security checkpoint as a comforting factor that mitigated our preconceived fears about a region prone to violence. To understand the political turmoil that has come to define Kashmir over the years, we spoke to Shaukat Motta, editor of Conveyor who gave us a factual account of ideologies that have shaped the issues that plague this region. We realized during this interaction however, that even the most peace loving Kashmiris thought of security checkpoints as unnecessary intrusions. This discrepancy taught us something. It forced us to think of the root causes of this major difference in attitude towards the army, and thus towards the government it seeks to defend. We thought of, and discussed, the region’s political history, its economic profile, and the cultural influences that condition its people, realizing that there was no one root cause – but a combination of factors that account for such attitude. We hope to discover and understand more as we go along.

We walked most of the distance home from Lal Chowk, and crossed the Jhelum on a Shikara – an enamoring experience in itself. We came home with many of our presumptions shattered, and perhaps with many new ones developed. Importantly, we came home with many new unanswered questions.

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