Cash for Vote – Tehelka Story

After the political storm kicked in by the controversial WikiLeaks Cable, another equally sensational story by Tehelka has given a new twist to the whole controversy.

As per Tehelka –

“Tehelka set out to nail the UPA government on these counts. But in the course of its investigation, it stumbled upon a shocking truth that has turned the whole story on its head. It is a truth that has not been told before. The government is still guilty of a venal cover-up. But the nature of the crime has shifted drastically. It appears the accuser—the BJP—is itself guilty of immense wrongdoing. In fact, the story of the 2008 cash-for-votes scandal is the story of a trap, a trip, and a cover-up. And none of the political parties involved come out looking good, or justified in assuming high moral ground.”

Tehelka claims that BJP is guilty of trying to set-up a trap by offering three of its MPs for sale to lure buyers from the UPA Camp. As per Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary the sting operation was more of an entrapment than an exposé. She made a clear distinction between entrapment by media and that by a political party on the ground that in this particular instance, BJP was hoping to get political benefit. According to her, BJP MPs had frantically tried to approach the potential buyers and Amar Singh fell for this trap. She has also accused the BJP of conspiring to destabilize the then UPA Government.

The Tehelka story came as a big relief for the Congress which was quick to build up its defense almost entirely on the same lines by blaming the BJP of stage managing the sting operation to destabilize the government.

Two issues raised by Tehelka and carried forward by Congress have become the topic of big debate today which are – (a) Is the BJP guilty of entrapment and (b) Is the BJP guilty of trying to destabilize the government.

Tehelka has been careful in not terming the so called entrapment something that is illegal or criminal. It can hardly afford to do so having built its clientage entirely on the basis of such sting operations. Tehelka is only saying that the entrapment was not morally right for the BJP because it stood to gain political mileage from it. But what about Tehelka which  has gained huge commercial mileage by conducting similar sting operations. Why is it is appropriate to gain commercial benefits from sting operations but not political? The simple question is – is it illegal to carry out a sting operation that includes entrapment of any type. We must not forget that even the law enforcement agencies carry out sting operations that include entrapment to catch prostitution rackets and corruption cases. If sting operation with entrapment is illegal, then all sting operations of the past, including those carried out by Tehelka and law enforcement agencies, should be investigated and the persons behind them should be punished. On the other hand, if it is legal, then there cannot be any charge against the BJP.

The other charge is that of conspiring to destabilize the government. This is at best laughable. It is the right of an opposition party to try and destabilize or in fact dethrone the government whenever there is a suitable opportunity. In fact, the No Confidence Motion introduced by the BJP in the parliament was exactly for this purpose. Once again, there is nothing illegal if the principal opposition party was trying to destabilize the then UPA Government and the ruling party should not cry foul on this. Does the Congress expect the BJP to work for the stability of its government?

Not just the Tehelka story but the timing of its publication raises serious doubts about the real motive behind it. The WikiLeaks Cable story was published in the Hindu on the 17th March raising the political storm immediately as the BJP and Left demanded a discussion in the parliament on this issue. The UPA government initially tried to avoid an immediate discussion by requesting the opposition to first pass the finance bill. Finally the government agreed for a debate in the parliament on the on 23rd March. Tehelka Story was published on the same day and immediately lapped up by the Congress to build its defenses. Kapil Sibbal read out extensively from the story and P Chidambaram was quick to declare widening of the scope of hitherto dormant probe by the Delhi Police of the Cash for Vote scam.

Tehelka claims to be in the exclusive possession of at least 10 telephonic recordings of the BJP MP Ashok Argal and middleman Suhail Hindustani actively soliciting a buyer from the UPA camp.

The big question is who had originally recorded these telephonic conversations? No one but the government of the day has the authority to tape telephone conversations of anyone. Was the UPA Government recording BJP MPs phones? Strangely only one-sided account of the telephone conversation is given. If the complete conversation is available why was it not published. Tehelka may claim that only one side of the conversation is available. How is it possible? It is possible only if someone present at Argal’s residence was recording the conversations externally. If it is so, who was it? It can’t be a BJP person. Then, was it someone from the CNN IBN team? But, as per the Tehelka story, CBN INN team was busy bugging the room while Sohail Hindustani was outside the house allegedly soliciting buyers. To record all the 10 conversation, someone would have had to constantly follow both Argal and Sohail with mikes which would have looked extremely odd and would have immediately raised doubt.

Someone needs to find out whether the UPA Government had taped the telephones of BJP MPs in 2008 and provided these recordings to Tehelka.

Timing wise, the Tehelka investigation could not have started before the publishing of WikiLeaks Cable i.e. 17th March. It is surprising that within 5 days, Tehelka managed to find out which no one could for the last two years including the Parliamentary Committee set up to probe the scam and the Delhi Police. What was the big hurry to publish the story on the same day when the debate was scheduled in the parliament? Is it really possible to complete such a complex investigation within less than 5 days and unearth such clinching evidence which was not in the knowledge of anyone for the last two years?

Tehelka has always been looked at with suspicion for its bias towards the Congress Party and Tehelka’s story on Cash for Vote only strengthens such suspicion.

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Operation Odyssey Dawn – War on Gaddafi

The much awaited air strikes by Western forces finally began on 19th March 2011; two days after the UN Security Council passed a sweeping resolution authorizing military action against Gaddafi’s forces.

French Air Force fired the first salvo by hitting two tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi. US and UK followed by launching around 110 Tomahawk missiles from their warships and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. Let me hasten to add for the benefit of those with a commercial bent of mind – each Tomahawk missile costs around USD 1 million so just the first round of missile strikes was equivalent of USD 110 million. Very soon the cost would run into billions of dollars – something the US and its allies can ill afford at this precarious stage when the much sought after economic recovery is playing hide and seek.

Interestingly, the operation has been code named – Operation Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey literally means – an extended adventurous voyage. Historically, Odyssey is the name of famous epic penned by Greek Poet Homer of 8th century. The poem centers on Greek Hero Odysseus and his long journey back home following the fall of Troy. It took Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War.

What is the significance of this strange code name? Does it indicate that the western forces have realized that this operation could be a long, painful and tiring haul? Given the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not too difficult to anticipate.

The decision to attack Gaddafi’s forces was imminent yet it took so long. In some way the Earth Quake and Tsunami in Japan might have helped Gaddafi for a while when the attention of the world got diverted to Japan facing the biggest tragedy since the Second World War. While France and Britain were itching to commence air strikes long back, the delay was mainly due to the reluctance of the US to get engaged in yet another conflict. Obama has won his election on the promise of pulling out from the existing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something which seemed easier said than done. On top of it, for the US to now open another military front would have been a really painful decision to make.

The recent advancement by Pro Gaddafi troops seems to have literally forced the decision on the US. Gaddafi’s troops were on the verge of entering Benghazi and fall of Benghazi would have symbolized the fall of the anti Gaddafi moment. From this point of view, the air strikes by Western forces couldn’t have been delayed even by a day.

USA has been careful to portray that it is merely supporting the attack and not leading it. Obama has repeatedly clarified that the US would not commit ground forces. The USSC waited for the Arab League’s request to implement a No Fly Zone on Libya to give out a message that this is not a Western versus Arab war. USA could have chosen to let France and Britain carry out the war but the temptation to play Super Cop would have tilted the scale in favour of the present decision of limited engagement.

Gaddafi would have been expecting and would have been prepared for the air strikes. As soon as the air strikes began, he arranged for hundreds or perhaps thousands of civilians to form a human shield around his palace in Tripoli. He has termed these civilians to be his supporters but it is difficult to say whether these people have come to his rescue voluntarily or forcibly. Whatever may be the case, it would deter any immediate air strike on his palace.

As per the US Military spokesman, the first round of air strikes has severely crippled Gaddafi’s air defence capabilities. This is not surprising given the vast gap between technical capabilities of the two sides. Very soon the Western Forces would be able to ground Gaddafi’s war planes which will significantly reduce his advantage over the rebel forces. Gaddafi may resort to the use of Surface to Surface missiles to hit the rebels and may even try Surface to Air missiles against Western war planes. However, the later may not be very effective as the missiles are technologically out dated and would not pose any serious threat to technically much superior air capabilities of the western forces. In fact, it is quite possible that the missiles available with Gaddafi may not be operational at all. In any case, this is a very limited option and would be very quickly neutralized by western air strikes.

Next option for Pro-Gaddafi Forces is to depend upon their superior artillery power in terms of tanks and armoured vehicles. France has already attacked a couple of tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi and we may witness more such strikes targeting Gaddafi’s artillery. However, the revolutionary forces are also using similar artillery equipment and therefore the air strikes against Gaddafi’s artillery would have to be much more accurate. Moreover, unlike most of the air defence installations, artillery is a mobile target and between pro and anti Gaddafi forces the frontlines are rather blurred. Gaddafi may exploit this limitation by positioning his artillery as close to the rebel forces as possible. In such situation, the Western Forces would need “Boots on the Ground” to help them direct the air attacks. This would seriously challenge the current strategy of not committing any ground troops. As a minimum, someone in the Western Camp would have to commit Special Forces to move with the ranks and files of the revolutionary forces for ground truthing.

USA and its allies would be hoping that helped by their air strikes, the Anti Gaddafi group would be able to oust Gaddafi. This may not be an easy task. They may be able to push back Pro-Gaddafi troops from Benghazi and other eastern cities but to penetrate into Tripoli would be a tough challenge. Air strikes would not be helpful once face to face engagement starts. Gaddafi would soon rework his strategy, pull back his forces and begin consolidating in and around Tripoli using Human Shield and wait for the rebels to come closer. How would the Western Forces deal with the Human Shield remains to be seen?

At this moment, a quick end to the Libyan crisis appears to be elusive. Operation Odyssey Dawn may prove to be exactly that – “an extended adventurous voyage”.

WikiLeaks India – Cash for Vote

WikiLeaks Cable disclosure on Cash for Vote couldn’t have come at a more inappropriate time for the UPA Government. Congress’s woes just don’t seem to end with skeletons popping out from one cabinet after another without respite.

The Cash for Vote controversy is nothing new and Indian public has viewed on national television with disbelief 3 BJP MPs displaying bundles of notes in the parliament. The most shocking part is that the parliamentary committee set up after the controversy finally decided to give a clean chit to the main accused namely Amar Singh and Ahmed Patel without even bothering to question them. BJP and Left representatives in this committee only recorded a dissent note in the final report of the committee and didn’t bother to take their protest any further.

Why now, the BJP and the Left are demanding Prime Minister’s resignation based on WikiLeaks disclosure? It is just an internal communication between American diplomats and not necessarily the Gospel truth. Why did they wait for all these years to protest against something that they already had full knowledge of? The simple answer is that they are opposition parties who would not lose any opportunity to score brownie points over the ruling party. The parliament disruption for a full session over the demand of JPC was done with the same motive.

The real question thrown up by WikiLeaks disclosure is – why Nachiketa Kapur (allegedly Cap. Satish Sharma’s aide) took the trouble of showing boxed full of money to the American diplomat. What was the role of the American Embassy in this murky deal? This raises serious doubt whether the money had actually been provided by the American Embassy to ensure smooth passage of the Nuclear Deal on which President Bush had put so much on stake

However, the Congress Party’s defense by none other than Rajeev Shukla is equally pathetic and childish. He says, “The whole world has rejected the WikiLeaks reports. Because if a diplomat is writing to his own sovereign government I do not think any government can take responsibility for it.” Can anyone believe that this person was himself a journalist not too long ago.

Congress has virtually run out of defenses and is just trying to put up a brave front. The biggest weakness of our democracy is that in spite of innumerable and monumental scandals the government is still in office. In any other civilized country, the government would have resigned long back out of shear embarrassment. But the thick skin of our political clan would give even a rhino run for money. Money? Seriously, no pun intended!!!!

The whole country knows that the otherwise docile Mr. Clean (MMS, who else) had shown his teeth only on one issue – The Nuclear Bill. The Cash for Money scam is related to the same issue. At that time MMS had bravely claimed that he wouldn’t mind even if the government falls on the Nuclear Deal issue. The deal went through and the government survived too – with cash for vote. Can Manmohan Singh still claim to be Mr. Clean? Can he still claim he was not aware? If he does, he doesn’t deserve to be the head of the government on the ground of incompetency.

While Congress may still survive these jolts and may even be voted back to power on TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor, Manmohan Singh’s days seem to be numbered. We just need to wait and see when Sonia would replace him with the Prince of Congress? Indian public is very forgiving, they will forget everything if Rahul Gandhi replaces MMS. The best timing for dethroning Mr No Longer Clean would be just before the General elections in 2013.

Evacuation of Indians from Libya Completed

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) today announced that Operation “Safe Home Coming” would be completed by today evening. Last batch of 262 Indians were evacuated today from Benghazi to Alexandria while two other groups from Tripoli and Sebha would be home bound later in the evening.

MEA needs to be congratulated for working sincerely and tirelessly to facilitate evacuation of nearly 18,000 Indians under difficult conditions. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has led this operation from the front. Strangely, the Foreign Minister S M Krishna was conspicuously absent from the lime light which is in a way understandable after his terrible show at the United Nations.

Fortunately, the situation in Libya has so far not escalated to uncontrollable proportion which meant that the initial delay in starting the evacuation operation did not cost us dearly. At one stage, a US or Western military intervention seemed almost eminent which could have worsened the situation but due to various factors the US and its Nato allies have not been able to take a clear cut decision in this regard. While the UK and France have been urging the US for a more active role in the Libyan crisis, the US is worried that any direct intervention may invoke an anti US feeling – especially in the Muslim World. The Western Allies are not too hopeful of getting a mandate from the UN Security Council as they believe that Russia and China would not approve such an action and if pushed may use their veto.

India has also been lobbying for preventing, or at least delaying a direct action in Libya while the evacuation operation was in progress. It issued a joint appeal to this effect with Brazil and South Africa earlier this week.

Completion of the evacuation operation would now give India a greater maneuverability in taking a stand on the issue. However, we need to keep in mind that most of our neighbours namely Bangladesh, Pakistan and Shri Lanka still have thousands of their citizens still trapped in Libya and India may feel obliged to take their concerns into account.

The Indian retuned from Libya may be relieved for the time being but would soon have to start worrying about their future. They may never return to Libya, not at least in foreseeable future. Those who have lost their livelihood and savings would have to rebuild their lives from the scratch.

Aruna Shanbaug Case – Where Truth Lies

 

The Supreme Court of India has given yet another landmark judgment on the Euthanasia plea of Pinki Virani on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug. Full Text of the Supreme Court judgment is available at http://ibnlive.in.com/news/full-text-supreme-courts-judgment-on-aruna-ramachandra-euthanasia-petition/145201-53.html .

The judgment document starts by quoting a Ghalib couplet – “Marte hain aarzoo mein marne ki, Maut aati hai par nahin aati” (I die in the wish of dying/ Death comes but doesn’t come.)

While the SC dismissed Pinki Virani’s petetion on the ground that she had no locus standi on this case, it appreciated the noble sentiments behind Pinki’s plea. What makes it a landmark judgment is the fact that the Supreme Court judgment goes beyond Pinki Virani’s euthanasia plea and lays down guidelines for future cases, as mentioned below –

(a) If the doctors treating Aruna Shanbaug and the Dean of the KEM Hospital, together acting in the best interest of the patient, feel that withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments is the appropriate course of action, they should be allowed to do so, and their actions should not be considered unlawful.

(b) In other cases, where a person has been in a vegetative state for a long time, passive euthanasia may be allowed by the High Court on a case to case basis provided a panel of doctors has given its nod for such measure;

(c) We (Supreme Court) are of the opinion that although Section 309 Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide) has been held to be constitutionally valid in Gian Kaur’s case (supra), the time has come when it should be deleted by Parliament as it has become anachronistic. A person attempts suicide in a depression, and hence he needs help, rather than punishment. We therefore recommend to Parliament to consider the feasibility of deleting Section 309 from the Indian Penal Code.

Doctors and Nurses of the KEM Hospital who had been taking care of Aruna for the last 37 years have welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court as they want Aruna to live her full life.

Aruna’s case has sparked off an emotional debate in the country as most people have very strong opinions for and against euthanasia. But do we really know what is Aruna’s case?  I tried to search the internet to get some details but to my surprise I found that although a lot of defragmented information on Aruna’s Case is available on the internet, there was hardly any single site which contained all the details in one place. I therefore decided to consolidate as much information as possible for the benefits of those who are interested but don’t have the time and patience to check out tens and hundreds of websites.

Aruna’s Shanbhag’s Case

’’I met a big learned pujari (astrologer) who said I had a sau mein ek patrika (a one-in-hundred horoscope), that I’d be a success, will live long & would go abroad. But even if he was talking rubbish it does not matter because I know that I will become known in my field’’.

Aruna Shanbhag had uttered these words to her cousin about her plans to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Little did she know that what waits for her is something so unimaginable, a future so horrid that even the best of pujari wouldn’t look forward to predicting!

Aruna was born in a small village Haldipur in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. She studied up to Class X at the Rural Education Society School in this village, and after the death of her parents, left for Mumbai to live with elder brother, Balakrishna. She completed a nursing course and joined the KEM Hospital at Parel in Mumbai. The lively, pretty and dedicated Aruna soon became very popular amongst the hospital staff.

Then 25 year old, Aruna was planning to get married to Dr. Sandeep Sardesai, a resident doctor in the same hospital. Aruna had planned a party on November 30 (2 days after the attack) for her colleagues — including the sweeper Sohan Lal, whom she disliked intensely.

She and Sohan Lal both worked in what was called the “dog lab” of the hospital — a laboratory in the basement where unclaimed street dogs were kept for experimental purposes. Sohan Lal was in charge of keeping the area clean and for getting dogs from their cages to the operating theatre.

Aruna used to hate Sohan Lal as she had found him mistreating the animals and stealing ‘dog food’ and medicines. She had warned him several times and had even reported the matter to her superiors.

Sohan Lal was obviously very piqued with Aruna for this. On 27th November, 1973 Aruna told him that she was going to send a written complaint to the Dean about him. Sohan Lal thought this was the limit and he must teach this daring nurse a lesson.

On the same day, at around 4.50 pm, Aruna came down to the basement to change out of her hospital uniform. There are two conflicting versions on why Aruna was changing clothes in the basement. One version says that she had ignored the advice of the hospital matron to use the designated change room for changing clothes. However, another version published in the Indian Express says that there was no place allotted for the staff nurses for changing clothes. Three months before the incident, the then security officer I C Sisodiya had written to the assistant dean and matron on making it mandatory for non-resident nurses to change only in nurses’ quarters, he said. “Non resident nurses would change in any empty corner of the hospital. Shanbaug and colleague Mary Joseph regularly used the basement unit, which would be empty in the evening and unsafe for nurses. Had the nurses been using the quarters, this would have never happened,” Sisodiya said after the attack on Aruna.

When Aruna was changing in the basement, Sohan Lal was lurking in the shadows waiting for the right opportunity to take his revenge. He attacked Aruna in the basement. She fought like a tigress, biting him, scratching him, kicking him, but he managed to throw her on the ground.

He first tried to rape her but finding that she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during this act he twisted the chain around her neck. The asphyxiation (strangulation) cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind.

The next day on 28th November, 1973 at 7.45 a.m., Pramila Kushe, a cleaner in the KEM Hospital, found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious condition. Recounting the horrible experience Pramila says, “I was the first one to find Aruna in the empty operation theatre in this hospital’s basement after she had been raped and brutally assaulted by that animal Sohan Lal. She was sitting, leaning against a stool with a dog-chain around her neck. There was blood around her. I ran out and brought the matron. As soon as she saw matron Bellimal, her eyes welled up and tears streamed down her face. She tried to say something but could not… only her lips moved. And then, slowly she lost consciousness..”

Sohan Lal was subsequently arrested from Pune and a police case was registered against him for robbery and attempted murder but not for rape or sexual molestation or “unnatural sexual offence” as hospital officials had deleted parts of her medical report that proved Aruna been sodomized. This was done to ensure that she did not face any ostracism after her recovery.  Sohan Lal was convicted for 7 years in jail in 1974. It is believed that had he been charged for rape, he might have got a longer jail term (up to 10 years).

Sohan Lal’s brutality did not end with the horrible assault on Aruna on 28 November 1973. After his release from prison, Sohanlal tried to attack Aruna a second time in the hospital bed by pulling down the bed railings in the hope that she would fall down and die. The hospital authorities then shifted Aruna to a secure room which is locked most of the time with access only to the doctors who treat her and the nurses who go in to feed and bathe her.

Sohan Lal’s whereabouts have been kept a closely guarded secret since then. Howsoever ironical it may sound; it is believed that he went on to work in a private hospital in Delhi for many years. According to another rumour Sohanlal’s is believed to have died recently due to AIDS.

Aruna’s fiancée,  Sundeep Sardesai, waited patiently for Aruna to revive for four years — visiting her every day and talking to her for hours and crying by her bedside. He eventually moved on, got married and settled down in the US. On Sunday night — hours before the Supreme Court verdict — Sundeep had called KEM matron M.P. Khaladkar. “He called again on Monday after the verdict. He spoke very little, asked how she was. He seemed very relieved with the judgment,” said Khaladkar, unwilling to give out more details.

37 years have expired since the incident and now Aruna is about 60 years of age. Though she survived the horrible attack, she never fully recovered from the trauma and brain damage resulting from the assault and strangulation. She has been in a vegetative state for all these years. However, contrary to the common confusion, she is neither in Coma nor is she Brain Dead. Her family and relatives used to visit her initially for some time but later abandoned and left her entirely to the KEM Hospital staff.

She is featherweight, and her brittle bones could break if her hand or leg is awkwardly caught, even accidentally, under her lighter body. She has stopped menstruating and her skin is now like papier mache’ stretched over a skeleton. She is prone to bed sores. Her wrists are twisted inwards. Her teeth had decayed causing her immense pain. She can only be given mashed food, on which she survives.

Although Aruna is not very much aware of herself and her surrounding, she somehow recognizes the presence of people around her and expresses her like or dislike by making certain types of vocal sounds and by waving her hands in certain manners. She appears to be happy and smiles when she receives her favorite food items like fish and chicken soup. She accepts feed which she likes but may spit out food which she doesn’t like. She was able to take oral feeds till 16th September 2010, when she developed a febrile illness, probably malaria. After that, her oral intake reduced and a feeding tube (Ryle’s tube) was passed into her stomach via her nose. Since then she receives her major feeds by the Ryle’s tube, and is only occasionally able to accept the oral liquids. Malaria has taken a toll in her physical condition but she is gradually recuperating from it.

Occasionally, when there are many people in the room she makes vocal sounds indicating distress. She calms down when people move out of her room. She also seems to enjoy the devotional songs and music which is played in her room and it has calming effect on her.

In an annual ritual, each and every batch of nursing students is introduced to Aruna, and is told that “She was one of us”; “She was a very nice and efficient staff nurse but due to the mishap she is in this bed-ridden state”.

The entire nursing staff member and other staff members have a very compassionate attitude towards Aruna and they all very happily and willingly take care of her. They all are very proud of their achievement of taking such a good care of their bed-ridden colleague and feel very strongly that they want to continue to take care of her in the same manner till she succumbs naturally. They do not feel that Aruna is living a painful and miserable life.

In his submission to the Supreme Court, Dr. Sanjay Oak, Dean KEM Hospital, has said –

“It would be incorrect to say that Smt. Aruna Shanbaug is an appropriate case for Coma. It appears that for a crucial, critical period her brain was deprived of Oxygen supply and this has resulted in her present state similar to that of Cerebral Palsy in the newborn child. It is a condition where brain looses it’s coordinatory, sensory as well as motor functions and this includes loss of speech and perception. This has resulted into a state which in a layman’s words “Aruna lives in her own world for last 37 years”. She is lying in a bed in a single room for 33 years. She has not been able to stand or walk, nor have we attempted to do that of late because we fear that she is fragile and would break her bones if she falls. Her extremities and fingers have developed contractures and subsequent to non-use; there is wasting of her body muscles. Her eyes are open and she blinks frequently; however, these movements are not pertaining to a specific purpose or as a response to a question. At times she is quiet and at times she shouts or shrieks. However, I must say that her shouts and shrieks are completely oblivious to anybody’s presence in her room. It is not true that she shouts after seeing a man. I do not think Aruna can distinguish between a man and a woman, nor can she even distinguish between ordinate and inordinate object. We play devotional songs rendered by Sadguru Wamanrao Pai continuously in her room and she lies down on her bed listening to them. She expresses her displeasure by grimaces and shouts if the tape recorder is switched off. All these years she was never fed by tube and whenever a nurse used to take food to her lips, she used to swallow it. It is only since September 2010 she developed Malaria and her oral intake dropped. In order to take care of her calorie make need, nurses cadre resorted to naso-gastric tube feed and now she is used to NG feeding. However, if small morsels are held near her lips, Aruna accepts them gladly. It appears that she relishes fish and occasionally smiles when she is given non-vegetarian food. However, I am honest in admitting that her smiles are not purposeful and it would be improper to interpret them as a signal of gratification. I must put on record that in the world history of medicine there would not be another single case where such a person is cared and nurtured in bed for 33 long years and has not developed a single bed sore. This speaks of volumes of excellence of nursing care that KEM Nursing staff has given to her.”

The Supreme Court in its judgment has expressed its deep appreciation towards the KEM Hospital staff who has provided her an excellent nursing care for the last 37 years which included feeding her by mouth, bathing her and taking care of her toilet needs. The care was of such an exceptional nature that she has not developed a single bed-sore or fracture in spite of her bedridden state since 1973.

US vs India – The Outsourcing Controversy

Recent hike in H1B visa fee by the US Government was a token measure to pacify the growing anger towards Outsourcing. In reality, this move is more of a token measure as it only affects the employees of the Outsourced companies deputed to the US. There is very little the US Government can do to influence the Outsourced work being carried out outside the US.

The Outsourcing controversy has become an emotional issue after thousands of people in the US lost their jobs since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Public sentiments do not care for business logic. Governments, all over the world, have to respond to public sentiments as the same may have an impact on the results of future elections. When public sentiments and business logic are at loggerheads with each other, the government has to delicately balance its actions. In such situations, Tokenism is taken to a different height.

If the jobs have dried up due to the economic downturn what should be the right approach to address the issue? Bringing the economy back to track is the only sustainable solution. This would mean taking measures to restore the profitability of the business entities. Discouraging outsourcing would work in the wrong direction. It may have a temporary effect but it won’t last long. If the companies are forced to bear higher cost, this would only delay the recovery process. Some, if not most, companies may not survive this hardship and would get pushed into liquidation. What would be the end result? Even fewer jobs in the market!

If companies have to incur higher cost, they will naturally pass on the additional burden to the end users in form of costlier products and services. What would be the result? Higher inflation, reduced demand, dropping bottom lines, more liquidations and finally fewer jobs in the market.

Finally, let’s break this myth that Indian Labour is horribly cheaper than its US counterpart. At a first glance, it does appear to be significantly cheap if we consider the exchange rate between the USD and Indian Rupee (INR). Presently the exchange rate is 1 USD to 45 INR. This means that a person earning say INR 45,000 per month would cost USD 1,000. However, applying exchange rate conversion to compare salaries in two countries is not the best way as it does not take into account the respective cost of living in the two countries. Best conversion to use is the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) conversion. As per IMF, in 2010, India’s per Capita GDP (Nominal) was USD 1,176 while the same in PPP terms was USD 3,290. Based on this, the PPP equivalent of INR 45,000 p.m. would be approximately USD 2,800 p.m. This is a win-win situation for the both the sides. Continuing with the same example, it costs only USD 1,000 p.m. to outsource the work while the person employed gets an equivalent of USD 2,800 p.m. It keeps the costs of services down in the US at the same time providing decent employment opportunities in India.

Most people in the US would say that this is indeed the crux of the problem and Indians are getting employment at our cost. My answer to them is that this is not a one-way traffic. How?

During the recent visit of Obama to India, nuclear power deals worth USD 10 Billion were signed. According to the statement issued by Obama, this deal would generate around 50,000 new jobs in the US. Do people opposing outsourcing take this into account?

Another common misconception is that Indian IT companies like Info Sys, Wipro, TCS and HCL etc. are mainly responsible for the large scale outsourcing. Not many Americans know that American front-line companies Microsoft and Intel have huge offices in India which employ hundreds of thousands of people. Not just IT companies, but other major US Engineering & Construction companies like Bechtel and Fluor have significant presence in India for outsourcing detail engineering work. Additionally, these companies also employ thousands of Indian construction workers and send them to their construction sites in Middle East and Africa. There is nothing wrong in this practice. If the American companies have to remain cost effective and competitive in the international market, they have to optimize their resource management.

Employment generation normally precedes economic growth. Government has to encourage economic growth to generate real and sustainable jobs. Constraining businesses based on short-term and emotional populism is neither good economics nor good governance.

Why DMK Pulled Out from UPA Government?

Ever since Raja was forced to resign from the central government, political analyst had been expecting its fall out on the Congress-DMK alliance. DMK chose not to react at that time so as not to give the impression that it was in any way involved with the 2 G Scam. Instead, it chose to wait for the right opportunity and the right excuse. On the other hand, the Congress had also realised that dumping DMK would, to a large extent, dilute the impact of the 2 G Scam.

The inevitable finally happened on 5th March 2011, when DMK pulled out from the UPA government at the centre over failure of seat sharing negotiations with the Congress. Going by its reaction, Congress appears to be in no panic and has instead tried to play down the issue.

We have often heard of the term “marriage of convenience” in politics. This is a good example of “divorce of convenience” where both the parties were equally keen to dump each other.

According to the DMK, the seat sharing talks failed after Congress went back on its agreed position.It claims that Congress’s demand kept changing throughout the negotiations and finally the DMK had even agreed to give 60 seats to Congress as compared to 48 in the last assembly election. Gulam Nabi Azad, Congress’s negotiator, had also accepted 60 seats but changed his position after talking to Delhi.

Congress’s demand, it is believed, was influenced by factionalism within the party. Union minister and CWC member G K Vasan wanted 17 seats for his supporters while Chidambaram was gunning for 10. Rahul Gandhi further added to the confusion by demanding 7 seats for youth wing. Accounting for all these demands, the total number of seats required by Congress has gone up to 65 from 48 contested in 2006 assembly election.

The question however is not of numbers but is in fact of respective strategies of the two parties. The CBI inquiry of the 2 G Scam has virtually reached the doorsteps of the Karunanidhi family. While the CBI inquiry is being directly monitored by the Supreme Court and there is not much the Congress can do to influence the probe, the Congress must have used this opportunity to put Karunanidhi under pressure and at the same time claiming to be helpless in the matter. If Subramanium Swamy is to be believed, Raja and Karunanidhi are not the only beneficiaries of the 2 G Scam and there is a possibility of the largest share having gone to Sonia Gandhi, through her two sisters in Italy. This would mean that it would be in the interest of Congress as well to prevent the inquiry from going too deep into the matter. Sonia and Karuna may have agreed to sacrifice Raja to save their skin. However, Congress doesn’t have the situation fully under its control due to the key role being played by the Supreme Court in this matter. Further, the opposition would use the recently constituted JPC on 2 G Scam to embarrass the Congress and the DMK. The Congress would have realised that trying to save Karunanidhi may be risky and therefore has decided to dump the DMK but forcing it into a corner during the seat searing negotiations. The DMK, on the other hand, would be happy as it can contest all the assembly seats by itself and would no longer have to be dependent on the support from Congress MLAs. With the assembly elections already announced, DMK no longer has to worry about the support of Congress MLAs in the Tamil Nadu assembly. By offering issue based support to the UPA the DMK would try to “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” that is to continue wielding pressure on the UPA Government by using its 18 MPs till the 2013 (or earlier?) General Elections and at the same time criticize the government when convenient.

The Congress has to worry about the numbers in the Lok Sabha. DMK has stopped short of fully withdrawing support and has now proposed issue based support. This gives the DMK an opportunity to behave like an ally as well as like an opposition party at the same time. Something similar to what the Left parties did during the UPA-1 rule. Congress would be weighing its options as well. Jai Lalitha has already hinted at the possibility of offering support. The problem is that AIDMK only has 9 MPs and the Congress would still need another 9 to make up for the loss. Other options are BSP, SP and BJD. Given Rahul Gandhi’s keen interest to see Congress improve its position in UP, taking support from BSP and SP may not be the preferred option.

BJD could be a viable option. However, Navin Patnaik would demand his pound of flesh too. Immediately, this may mean clearing the Lanjigarh Mines for the Vedanta Alumina Refinery. The Congress may not be too averse to the idea. Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal needs Congress’s support not just for the Lanjigarh Mine but also from the Cairns acquisition deal. Removal of Murali Deora as the Minister of Petroleum during the last minor reshuffle has already paved the way for a rapprochement on the matter. Further, after announcement of the Reliance-BP deal Mukesh Ambani may not oppose Vedanta’s take over of Cairns India. As an additional incentive, a settlement with Anil Agarwal would also help the party coffer of the Congress.

It would be interesting to watch if the Congress still tries to resolve the issue with the DMK. If not, then how many seats it can win own its own? My guess is that the Congress may not win more than 25-30 seats if it goes alone in TN. However, the bigger issue is whether the DMK would survive the 2G Scam crisis coupled with the anti incumbency factor during this election? Going by historical trends, it is AIDMK’s turn now to win the election. If so, dumping DMK may not be such a bad idea for the Congress.

Yet Another Blow to UPA 2 – SC Strikes Down CVC Appointment

 Today Supreme Court of India has given a landmark judgement by striking down P J Thomas’s appointment as CVC. This indeed is a big blow to the Man Mohan Singh government which is already reeling under the embarrassments of major scams – 2G and CWC in particular. The main opposition party BJP has many reasons to rejoice. BJP’s representative Sushma Swaraj had recorded her dissent as a member of the panel which had cleared Thomas’s appointment. Other two members of the panel the PM and P Chidambaram have a lot to explain now.

UPA-2 government appears to be crumbling down under major embarrassments recently. Man Mohan Singh’s clean image has taken a major hit. The public now sees him more of a Mukhauta (mask) of the Congress Party to hide all its wrongdoings. Clearly the Sonia coterie has been much more active during UPA-2 and it appears that they were not fully aware of the strength of India’s democratic institutions such as the CAG and the Judiciary – particularly the Supreme Court.

Behind the high walls of 10, Janpath Sonia Gandhi seems to be relying entirely on her coterie of incompetents and sycophants for major decision making. It is worth mentioning here that in November 2010, the AICC not only endorsed Sonia Gandhi as the President of Congress Party for the fourth time but also empowered her to nominate members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in place of holding elections.

Congress needs to make a major decision by next General Elections which is whether or not to project Rahul Gandhi as their next Prime Ministerial candidate. Going by the present state of affairs, this certainly doesn’t appear to be a conducive situation for launching the Prince.

On the other hand BJP couldn’t have hoped for a better run up to the General Elections in 2013. However, BJP has a lot of soul searching and internal housekeeping to do to put its house in order for facing the next elections. Presently the party appears to be overcrowded with aspirants for the PM post. The part needs to very clearly project one leader if it wants to get the best milage out of the failures of UPA-2. Hiding behind the usual excuse of MPs electing the leader would not work in General Elections.

Indian evacuation from Libya – Too little, too late

Finally, two Air India flights carrying around 500 Indians landed at the Terminal 2 of Delhi Airport. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was beaming and smiling facing the TV cameras. The Indian Government seems to be patting its own back for this exemplary humanitarian action. The problem is that it has taken too long to ponder over the issue which needed to be handled on emergency basis.

Most people would cry foul – do you have to be so critical of everything that the government does? After all the GoI has gone out of the way to air lift stranded Indian citizen and that too free of cost (unlike Egypt).

Why I am critical of the government’s action or rather inaction is because most of you may not be aware that even before the first Air India flight landed in Tripoli, China had already evacuated 16,000 of its citizens using all routes – air, water and land. Chinese Naval Ships have been pressed into service long back while even today we see a statement by our “alert” Foreign Minister S.M Krishna announcing that Indian Ships will soon leave Indian shores for Libya. He doesn’t tell you the more important thing – when will they reach Libya.

Not just China, almost all other concerned countries had started evacuation of their citizens from Libya long back. Brazil for example has already evacuated 3000 people.

There are over 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya. The GoI has announced its intention to operate 2 Air India flights per day for next 10 days. At the rate of 500 people per day this will evacuate 5,000 people. The naval ships whenever it reaches can only take around 1,100 people. That still leaves around 12,000 people. What about them, Mr. Krishna?

Second and more important aspect is timing and urgency. We don’t have all the time in the world to complete the evacuation at leisure. The situation in Libya is explosive and needless to say that it required urgent and timely action but like everything else the government machinery in India is not designed to act in urgency. The Babus would have raised endless queries – who will pay? When Egypt evacuation was not free why make it free this time? How much would it cost? Where is the budget for this? How can we minimise the cost? Can we send ship in place of flights? Is it safe to land flights there? I can think of 100 more but what’s the point?

The battle between the Pro-Gaddafi forces and the protesters is now entering the final stage and it is feared to be one of the bloodiest and ugliest battles. This could result in a massive genocide leaving 50-100 thousand people dead.  On the other hand, USA and its western allies have been waiting for their citizens to be evacuated before taking any direct action. The last American citizen left yesterday and the US embassy has been closed. Immediately, you can notice a distinct change in tone of Obama’s statements. British PM, Cameron has also hinted at more effective action as the last batch of britishers leaves Libya.

Indian governments dithering may have put the lives of thousands of its citizens in danger of being caught in the cross fire. Let’s hope that despite the fiasco on government’s part, our fellow citizens safely get out of Libya.

Time to pray and pray hard!

PS: For a first hand account please read – “Embassy did not provide us any help : Indian in Libya (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/131033/returned-from-libya-indian-recounts-horror-story.html)


Does God Exist?

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to hurt anybody’s sensibilities, however, if you are a staunch believer and are likely to get hurt by the very nature of the topic, you are advised not to read the following article.

There are two main issues at the concept level – God and Religion. The two may be closely linked but are not the same. One may believe in the existence of God but may not follow any religion and one may follow a religion (such as Buddhism) where belief in God is not a precondition or a part of the religion.

All the major religions, although most are based on an overarching concept of God, mainly lay down a code of conduct for their followers. The code of conduct is conveyed in a manner which (explicitly or implicitly) suggests that the same is God’s wish. The implementation of the code of conduct is ensured by using a mix of reward and punishment regime, again giving the impression, that these would be affected by the God himself.

The code of conduct is really comprehensive and deals with every aspect of the life starting from birth to death. Religions, rather religious leaders, play an important role at each important milestone of life and as a minimum birth, marriage and death.

However, the key issue is – Does God exist? Let’s approach it in a different way. The four major religions of the world – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism were all founded at least 2000 years back. Let’s count Buddhism out because it does not directly propose the existence of God in any form. The concept of God in Christianity and Islam are very similar and Hinduism is very complex where all beliefs including monotheism, polytheism and atheism are acceptable.

The highest common factor of the top three religions regarding the concept of God is that it is abstract in form and is omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power) and omnipresence (present everywhere). The question is if God is abstract then how we, the human beings, found out about his existence, his powers and his likes and dislikes. Christianity and Islam partially Hinduism as well, have used the concept of Messenger of God to explain this. The Messenger has acted as a conduit between the abstract God and mankind. So, except for the Messenger, no other human being can claim to have experienced the existence of God. It is worth mentioning here that no new Messenger was born since the last 2000 years.

This means that our knowledge about God is based on something that happened more than 2000 years back. Today this knowledge is available in the form of scriptures most of which are believed to have evolved over hundreds of years which must have resulted in significant distortions from the original form. Vedas are considered to be the oldest Hindu scriptures and are believed to have evolved over thousands of years. Bible similarly is believed to have been written by as many as 40 authors over a period of 1500 years starting from 1500 BC to 90 AD. Koran is said to have been first memorized by hundreds of followers of Mohammad based on his recitations and then recorded by many others before the final version was prepared in 653.

The interpretation of the scriptures has been passed on from one generation to the other over more than 2000 years and there might have been thousands or perhaps millions of people who would have contributed in shaping the interpretation that is available to us today.

Imagine a concept so subtle, so complex and almost impossible to comprehend that been passed on through thousands of years and through millions of people. Yet billions of people even today are ready to vouch for or even die for it. No one knows what the truth is. It is just that the belief is imprinted on our psyche since our birth by previous generations in the same manner their previous generation did to them and this chain has not been broken in most cases for more than 2000 years.

One doesn’t need any logic or argument to know the truth. A good and open minded understanding of the history of evolution of major religions is sufficient to give us a fair idea.

The problem is that the almost all the religion forbid questioning the concept and further evolution. This makes it virtually impossible to have a meaningful debate with a staunch follower. Further, such people would invariably start quoting from the same scripture that have propounded the concept. How can you argue with a person who is trying to prove God’s existence by telling you that God exists because the Vedas or the Bible or the Koran says so.

Followers of religion use a very convenient tool called FAITH. They claim that religion is a matter of faith and is therefore not open to arguments or debate.

To be fair, most of the prominent Atheists in the history have made the mistake of taking on the responsibility to prove that God doesn’t exist. This in my opinion, is a futile exercise because in spite of the amazing scientific developments that have happened so far, our knowledge is still grossly inadequate to know or to investigate a concept so abstract. The only way to refute the concept is to understand that if today we know so little about the nature and the universe, our knowledge must have been virtually non existent 2000 years back and therefore barring the possibility of a MIRACLE, there was no way for any human being to find out anything about the creation and creator of the universe at that point of time.

An important rider in the previous statement is the possibility of a MIRACLE. Interestingly, all religions thrive on the concept of miracle to prove the existence of God. What is a miracle? What we see today would have been termed as a MIRACLE not too long ago. Miracles have been used for thousands of years to prove the existence of God and more so the authenticity of so called Godmen. Even today, the rules of Church in fact official require a person to have performed at least one miracle to qualify for sainthood. Not too long ago, the Church had banned Copernicus’s famous book De revolutionibus on the ground that it was against the Holy Scriptures for proposing that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the Earth was not at the centre of the Universe. For the same reason Galileo was put under house arrest in 1633 until rest of his life.

There have been significant developments in all fields of knowledge. In this journey, we have not just made new discoveries but have also corrected and refined the knowledge of the past. The only field where further development, corrections or refinement had been prohibited from its very inception is religion. Even today, any challenge to the ideas proposed by religious scriptures invokes strong reactions from billions of followers most of whom have themselves not even read those scriptures.

The fact of the matter is that in spite of the huge progress made in the field of science we have just discovered the tip of the iceberg and we have a long way to go. The level of our knowledge is not sufficient to answer all the questions including that about the presence or absence of any Supreme Power or God which has created this Universe and which governs it. By the same logic, our knowledge about the Universe was much more inadequate or virtually non-existant 2000 years back and therefore a hypothesis proposed so far back is highly unlikely to be true. In fact, the inadequacy of knowledge in those times allowed such hypotheses to go unchallenged by counter logic. When challenged, brute force rather than logical explanations were used to suppress the challengers. The real progress in knowledge and science has been made in the last 2000 years which has made it almost impossible for any new entrant to start an entirely new religion. In stead, the new entrants have taken the easier route of starting new sects within the already established religions.

In spite of the flimsy grounds up on which religions were established, they have a bright side too. By establishing a comprehensive code of conduct, religions laid the foundation of a civilized society. Religions also helped people to get psychological support especially during troubled phases of their life. However, instead of clinging to the outdated codes of conduct, it is high time we review the same and make them suitable for today’s world. While most people today may not be bold enough to outrightly challenge the religions, but at the same time do not believe in and follow each and every aspect of the codes of conduct. The growing indifference to religion in the masses is a form of challenge that the custodians of religion would find most difficult to counter. If the same trend continues, all religions would gradually die a natural death at some point in future.