From light to darkness?

Spare a thought for Irom Chanu Sharmila.

Irom Chanu Sharmila is in her late 30’s and is a poetess from the troubled state of Manipur. Ten years have passed since she declared a fast. The fast was a spontaneous reaction to the Malom Massacre.On 2nd November, 2000, 10 people including an old woman and some teenagers, waiting at a bus stand, were killed by the soldiers of the 8 Assam Rifles.  Within 3 days of her fast, she was arrested on the grounds of “attempted suicide”. She has been force fed vitamins, nutrients via a nasal drip under custody and has been in and out of jail for the past ten years. Ten years of precious life has been sacrificed for just one agenda- repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA) from the North East!

Meanwhile, there have been countless other protests, more rapes of women, and who knows how many more cases of abuse by the armed forces. The rape and killing of Manorama Devi in 2004 by the soldiers of 8 Assam Rifles triggered one of the more infamous protests in the form of a rally of naked middle-aged women, protesting against the atrocities of the armed forces. The Jeevan Reddy commission report which recommended a repeal of the AFSPA has been swept under the carpet very conveniently. The politicians and the government are such an apathetic class. Not a single politician has taken account of the peaceful protest by Irom Sharmila apart from tokenism, nor have they shown any conviction towards addressing the core issue of oppression against one’s own people.

Who cares about some random Manipuri on a fast for 10 years? What does it really take to be heard in our country? If the highest form of Satyagraha does not work in the country of Gandhi, what will work? And if the government takes a piecemeal approach towards dissolving the AFSPA, would it really serve the purpose?

On a day when a minority in the country is celebrating the “Festival of Lights”, I can only spare a thought for the darkness in the life of the determined Irom Sharmila and the countless other oppressed people in their own country.



Of Free Televisions, Politics and Business

Tamil Nadu is known to have a fickle electorate that has learnt to maximise its interests with every regime change over the years. It’s historically known to alternate between DMK and AIADMK every 5 years, especially since the death of MGR. There is no ideology left in Tamil Nadu politics and the election results are largely decided on a combination of populist manifestos and anti-incumbency factors.

As a Policy Analyst, one thing that is constantly drilled into your mind is “Read between the Lines”. The ulterior motives behind Government Policies are not always what they seem to be on paper.  I tried to apply this to a subject familiar to me – Tamil Nadu Politics. Especially from the context of the 2006 DMK Elections Manifesto.

Among many populist schemes enlisted in the manifesto document, one particular scheme that caught not only my attention, but also of the electorate and the media was the “Free Television Scheme”. This scheme simply states “Free colour TV to every family for women’s recreation and general knowledge.” It has been implemented since with unseen fervour by the DMK Government which came into power in 2006 riding the success of its unprecedented populist election manifesto.

Let’s look at some of the numbers:

  • The DMK government has already distributed 9.1 million TV sets and has placed orders for another 5 million TV sets to be distributed by the end of fiscal year 2010-2011.
  • Each set costs Indian Rupee symbol.svg2,965 at the minimum. That makes it a staggering cost of  Indian Rupee symbol.svg4100 crores of tax payer money at the minimum! Some sources claim this to be more than Indian Rupee symbol.svg5000 crores.
  • The 2001 census figures says close to 92 lakh households in TN do not have access to a toilet.

Now, here’s another set of numbers:

  • Sun TV Networks (STNL) is a leader in 3 out of the 4 lucrative southern TV markets through its bouquet of 20 channels across genres. Its flagship channel – Sun TV enjoys a commanding market share of 68% in Tamil Nadu.
  • Sun Direct is the fastest growing DTH service provider having garnered over 6 million subscribers since its launch in December 2007.
  • Sun Network-owned Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV) controls over 85 per cent of Set-Top Box cable connections in the state. Players like Hathway have been bullied out of the state using DMK party machinery.
  • Sun is Asia’s most profitable broadcaster according to a study.
  • Kalanithi Maran, the grand nephew of Karunanidhi, CEO of STNL is the 20th richest Indian according to Forbes and the highest paid CEO in the country.

It’s obviously clear that the populist scheme devised by the DMK Machinery served three purposes:

  1. Sway the Tamil Nadu electorate towards itself for the 2006 Assembly Elections.
  2. Strengthen the already monopolistic Sun TV Network with unprecedented sales and revenues.
  3. Obtain unmatched political and advertising clout for the DMK through the Sun Network, with literally every household set to have a television set.

This is a clear case of misuse of public office for private gain.

On a recent visit to a remote village in the Nilgiris district which has a predominant tribal population, I had the opportunity to interact with many from the tribal communities. They receive free electricity, rice at Indian Rupee symbol.svg1/- per kg through the PDS, free gas stoves and all households have a free TV set thanks to the scheme. Now a TV without a cable connection renders it totally useless. So what do they do?

They pay Indian Rupee symbol.svg1100/- per year to Sun Network to use the free TV set with free electricity.

Talk about the market penetration Karunanidhi’s scheme has achieved!


I Dream…

I dream of an India,

where growth is not defined by GDP ,“world-class” infrastructure and stock markets

where governance is participatory, with communities being the rightful stakeholders in any decision, and not dictated by the whims of  a politician or bureaucrat who sits in confined echelons of a far away city

where the environment and human resources are not exploited in the name of free markets and development

where priority is given to Right to Education rather than building “world-class” airports

where there is no discrimination based on race, gender, religion, caste, occupation

where there is no corruption

where law and order is not in the hands of goons and corrupt politicians

where priority is given to development of sports in the remote corners of the country instead of building glitzy stadia and “world-class” infrastructure

where democratic participation does not rest in the hands of the elite few

where the rights of indigenous people are not foregone in the name of neoliberal policies

where political parties are based on ideologies and not convenience

where every industry is given its due importance

where burgeoning landfills are not the norm

where success is not defined by materialism

where the civic sense is truly “world-class”

where believers of all religions and non-believers have equal rights

where the judicial system is efficient ,fair and just

where the roots of terrorism and extremism are tackled with political solutions

where borders are only academic in nature

where all states truly feel to be a part of the nation

where politicians deserve respect

where unity in diversity is no more a rhetoric

where the rich natural and cultural heritage is preserved for the future generations

where arts and freedom of speech is encouraged

where success does not depend on whom you are connected to

where democracy is truly of the people, by the people, for the people

where the future is bright and sustainable.

I dream.