Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Off-Stumped Vision

It was the worst of times and it was the worst of times. Of the two firangi coaches in Indian subcontinent, one was left murdered after an un-predictable defeat and the other was seen hiding behind a bullet-proof glass while his team was getting booted out of world cup. That, in short, was how cricketing fate of two neighbors had been over the last one week.

While Bob Woolmer's yet to be solved murder mystery throws a light on the criminalization of the gentleman's game, India's defeat and the aftermath surely shows the huge scale of commercialization of the game. The only thing common between legitimate and illegitimate businessmen sitting on the two sides of the fence is the exorbitant amount of money they throw in.

But the glaring difference lies in the fact that while betting rings can hedge their investments, the corporate world doesn't have much cushion when their logo displaying players flop. So likewise the hype is created before the tournaments, the media thrashing is largely driven by interests of those who have invested into this circus. That's probably I'm ranting my investment of S$100/- that allowed me to watch only 3 matches played by India.

I'm now curious how the corporate world will implement the hedging concept when they will sign the next contracts with these walking bill-boards. Would there be penalty clause for every catches dropped, every ball misjudged and every extras bowled? If that be the case then the cricketers could hedge their earnings by secret tie-ups with the betting association for each of these penalties. So the thrill will be in speculating for every ball bowled whether the sponsor paid more for the batsman to hit a six or the better paid more to give a lolly catch to a pre-determined fielder. Just like stocks and bonds, the game of cricket will again enjoy the odds of uncertainty making the matches worthwhile watches. Also if you have access to inside information, you can make some hay while the sun shines.

And those of you complain about Krish Srikant's nonsensical analysis – there’s good news for you as well. In future you might see these ex-cricketers replaced with market analysts and conmen who’ll be much more knowledgeable on the odds and evens of the game than those who have wielded the willow. Add a lil dash of Rakhi Sawant and Mandira Bedi to this cocktail and what you get will be total entertainment.

Till all these goodies come to the cricketing world, left with much less option, I'll be cheering for Sri Lanka in this world cup, for their obvious Bong Connection.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Nandigram-Nandigram !!

"Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Vietnam-Vietnam" [ English: My name-Your name is Vietnam-Vietnam]

This was the slogan that as a young leader Budhadev had been shouting his lungs out across the streets of Kolkata. Because then Vietnam was merely not a country located somewhere in SE Asia - it was an ideology that defined what fighting spirit meant. It was an ideology that took side of the David against the Goliath - the ill-equipped Vietkongs against the mighty American Imperialism.

But that was long-long time ago – more than three-four decades ago. During these dull times of sinking WB economy, Buddhadev rose from his student leadership days to become the C.M. of West Bengal. From the day one he made one point clear - he was a no-nonsense C.M. whose motto was to bring back the long-lost economic glory of W.B. Everyone was glad to see a communist leader who earnestly speaks of foreign investments, disinvestments, importance of private sectors and so on.

After sometime his efforts paid off – investors started coming in. We were beginning to shred off our usual skeptical "Kissu hobe nah" attitude and start dreaming with Brand Buddha. Of course the distracters were there - a group of disgruntled intellectuals, bunch of disillusioned Naxalites and a crazy opposition who kept on saying this was not the way towards prosperity. We didn't pay any heed to these barking dogs and prayed for the caravan to pick up the gears.

Then came the Singur SEZ controversy - so far we were told industrialization meant heavy investments, creation of a lot of new jobs, improved lifestyle for all - in short Sonar Bangla at your doorsteps. But why do the farmers and share-croppers disapproved the idea of sacrificing their lands for our bright future. We were initially assured they are only a handful; the majority has already willingly given their share of land to this noble purpose.

The problem was in an age where information is accessible like never before, the claims of the government were very short-lived. We saw faces of hopeless farmers, whose sole means of livelihood were getting snatched, telling their side of the story on our television. We were shaken but not stirred - we thought these people need to be explained the importance of industrialization. Only then they will happily jump in the party.

Meanwhile the opposition leader Mamnta Bannerji started her brand of gimmick politics and a series of bandhs ensued. The govt. responded in its usual arrogant manner. Still we were waiting for good sense to prevail and open the windows to the dawn of prosperity. Contrary to our hope, things worsened to the extent of fencing the proposed factory side and declaring curfew to prevent people from bringing down those fences.

While Singur was creating the waves, the next proposed area for SEZ or rather a part of it, Nandigram was feeling the tremors. Without much surprises the villagers at Nandigram retorted back, saying a “BIG NO” to land acquisition for the proposed SEZ. But where the surprise came was the intensity with which they fought back. Such was the furore that local party cadres of CPI-M had to flee their houses - this was something never seen before incident in rural Bengal - the strongest hold of CPI-M support in Bengal.

Meanwhile back at Kolkata Writers Building, the government was chalking out its next plan of action - how to win the confidence of the denizens of Nandigram. To restore orders back at Nandigram[read to reinstate CPI-M ], a 4000 strong police force marched their way towards the villages. What followed next was the biggest bloodshed that Midnapore ever witnessed since the days when Matangini Hazra unfurled the Indian tri-color in Tamluk.

The acquisition of fertile land, the figures for a just compensation, the SEZ way of industrialization - were no longer a matter of political debate over a cup of tea. The intensity of the terror was more than enough for us to be both shaken and stirred. In fact for the first time since these movements have started, there was a strike that received support from the general public. But what were we protesting against the brutal tactics of LF government or supporting the plight of the farmers?

Were we protesting against the neo-liberal economy that as opposed to classical capitalism doesn't create its own infrastructure? Neither does it ensure equal growth for all the people. Or were we showing our disapproval of SEZ which in itself a declaration of our handicap to ensure that investments can happen anywhere without providing additional carrots for the investor. May be it was a little bit of all of it, which at the end of the day, brought us face to face with the ruthless reality of the neo-liberal economy.

With govt declaring that no land will be acquired for SEZ over there, Nandigram might return to normalcy, may be over a period of time people will forget about the deaths, but the debate over which is the correct avenue to prosperity needs to happen. Do we really need the SEZs - where labor laws are relaxed (ie. easier exploitation), where the govt indirectly use my tax money to support Mr. Money-Bag Investor? Do we need to revisit our decadent land laws - does the right to own property or even more the right to livelihood qualify for a rethinking? Another aspect is with more stress of heavy/medium industries what role agriculture play in WB economics ? Will it co-exist with industrial cities in and around the fertile Gangetic Delta or will be dispensed away.

Until these questions are answered the brand Buddha might have the halo - but it will fail to illuminate us in these times of darkness. Until then Nandigram will signify the indomitable spirit of freedom - the freedom to live with head held high. And who knows may be today’s youth who'll be tomorrow's leaders are already shouting on the streets of Kolkata "Amar Naam-Tomar Naam, Nandigram-Nandigram".

ps: Sunil Ganguly, possibly the biggest name among living Bengali writers and also an ardent Buddhadev fan said that for a C.M, Buddha is remarkable in terms of the number of Sunil's poems he recites from memory. There was also a poem penned by the C.M's uncle Sukanta Bhattacharya about how the stairs that you climb in an effort to reach heights have their own revenge by toppling you down in Emperor Humayun style. I hope with his photographic memory Buddhababu still remembers those lines while planning for the next course of action.

Update: Hypocrisy takes a new meaning when the CPI-M will hold protests against the Reliance-promoted SEZ of Navi Mumbai on Friday.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

India Uncut : Dude Where Does My Magazine Subscription Go ?

Amit VermaVarma, undoubtedly India's most-read blogger, had crossposted an article from Mint about the how the dumb-headed babus at GoI offices are chanelling our tax money for purposes that ulimately serve no-one. To prove his case, he cites our FM's allocation of "Rs. 563.88 crores for the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy" in 07 budget.

These days we are getting so much used to read these kinda news. I even developed a natural reflex action - Read the story, then take a deep sigh and if the figures are too high nodd your head heavily in disapprovement. If the figures are not too high, nodd my head less vehmently, while chucking out a Tsk-tsk sound out of my tounge. When all these steps are over, I finally get back to my life and forget about the misuse of my tax-money. Somehow today I went beyond my natural reflex action and instead of a deeper sigh, took the deeper googling route to this piece of news item. A little probe lead me to this particular government department's (also known by sweet acronym AYUSH) website.

What I gathered from this website that folks in this department are supporting:

753 Ayurvedic hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 35182
223 Homoeopathy hospitals with a total bed-capacity of 11205
15193 Ayurvedic dispensaries and 5634 Homoeopathy dispensaries
450 UG Colleges with an admission capacity of 24880
57 PG Colleges with an admission capacity of 2128
9493 manufacturing units of which 7997 are producing Ayurvedic medicines.

If these figures don't carry any meaning, let me share another fact from their Citizen's Charter [link in pdf] - Among this list, there is the Advanced Ayurvedic Centre for Mental Health in none-other than the renowned medical institute NIMHANS. Now if NIMHANS can be claimed as a center for psuedo-science, then probably Freud was a voodo magician too.

Asides from all these figures AYUSH is responsible for enforcing the quality control for all Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and natural medicines. In other words they are responsible that we are not sold cow-urine in the name of natural medicines. Not sure if that pisses off Amit or not.

Also if you want to know more about what happens to your tax money at AYUSH, here's one more info - AYUSH also manages the company known as Indian Medicines Pharmacutical Corporation Ltd. This is one of those sarkaari units that, to the joy of the libertarians around blogging world, the GoI hope to disinvest. Incidentally this company's net worth is Rs. 316 crore and made a profit Rs.0.77 crore in 2003 as per the last figure Google could obtain for me from the net.

So does the allocation of Rs.563.88 crores to AYUSH sounds money going to drains? After browsing through all these figures, even my most skeptic avatar also fails to agree that AYUSH is something similar to moustache allowance of Lucknauwi Havaldar.

Before making my point about Amit's nearly research-less work, let me put the disclaimer I am in no way a fan of our FM, neither I say GoI is the best when it comes to plan the crores of tax-payers' money. In fact if somebody decides to rank the governments around globe for planning their expenses, I've no doubt India's position in the list might be even worse than its FIFA ranking.

Having said that let me come back to the point I'm trying to make. Unlike any other fukat-main-blog-likhnewala blogger, Amit is a journalist who's paid by the paper that publishes his articles. Being paid for these articles makes him even more responsible for checking the facts and figures before making it to print. As far his blogging is concerned, it's his blog - his own space in this big WWW. He is fully entitled to write whatever he feels like. Heck, I wouldn't mind even if he cook-up gossips about the Bollywood nymphets without backing them up with hard evidence.

But Amit dude, when it comes to serious journalism, please do make it a point to do your research work (it took me only 10-15 minutes of surfing time ) just to see if any single paisa of the enormous Rs. 563.88 crore has been put to any good use or not. Otherwise your articles are no different from those extra-imaginative journos at HT Tabloid who get paid to update us about Bipasha Bose and Celina Jaitley's sex life at regular intervals that you keep on cribbing about. Atleast I don't have sources to verify their stories and also I don't hear the nymphets protesting about misquotes.

Looking at the state of things, may be I should to start a series of posts on "Where does your Magazine Subscription fees Go?". The first in the series would definitely touch upon aspects of "Funding the Cow-Lover" to pay for his broadband connection which happens to be a prime requirement for his bovine Google Search.

ps: Bongopondit's take on the same AYUSH fund allocation in the lines of why bio-technology gets only a fraction more to natural medicine was much more sensible than Amit's take. Then again, he's not paid a single cent to write about it. May be that is where the difference between passion and profession kicks in.